Showing posts with label inspiration. Show all posts
Showing posts with label inspiration. Show all posts

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Painter's Keys

 "We live our short spans in the vortex of a miracle, and while we may not be the center of that vortex, it is magic to be anywhere in there." (Robert Genn

For the last few years, I have subscribed to a free, twice-weekly letter from painter and teacher Robert Genn. It arrives in my inbox, and begins with a friendly "Dear Heather", although I have never met him. The letter is always deeply thoughtful, discussing various ideas, issues, and techniques relevant to any artist, not just a painter. If I want to, I can link back to his website and find out what other people think, and find all kinds of images of art. There is nothing for sale, except maybe his doorstopper of his book, a collection of his letters from over the years.

These letters, and the website are incredible acts of generousity. As his daughter Sara says in yesterday's post:
Dad's dream has been to reach artists of all stripes -- individuals with a common joy, journeying in this life-enhancing, inexplicable affair of the heart. He wrote, "We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities -- to get more joy and understanding from their own unique processes." With this dream in mind, please forward this letter, or letter of your choice, to someone you think might find it of value. If one, or many, chooses to subscribe, we will exponentially widen -- as a diverse and generous community of worldwide artists. "To float like a cloud you have to go to the trouble of becoming one."
The last year of letters has been especially open-hearted and generous, as Robert chronicled his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, and how an artist continues with the knowledge of imminent death. He talked about philosophical matters, and also practical ones. He described how he continued to paint while bedridden, with a horizontal easel, and how he edited his work so that no inferior paintings would survive. His daughter Sara, also an artist, began to share the writing of letters. She is just as insightful, and brings the contemporary perspective of a New York-based artist.

Robert passed away on Tuesday. His letters will continue, with Sara writing once a week, and also posting a favourite previous one of Robert's.

You can read the whole post here, and also subscribe to the twice weekly letters.

Thank you Robert - you made the world a better place.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Exercising My Brain

I'm off down another rabbit hole of reading and research, this time, ironically enough, to do with NOT knowing. Or more precisely, being comfortable with the feeling of not knowing, of uncertainty.

Cy Twombly, Panorama, 1957
I'm a big fan of the very smart Alain de Botton. His latest book, Art as Therapy, is exactly up my alley, and I'm sorry to have to return it to the library tomorrow. He begins with his Seven Functions of Art, which are: Remembering, Hope, Sorrow, Rebalancing, Self-Understanding, Growth and Appreciation. He writes wonderfully about each aspect, but I was particularly struck by a passage about a painting of Cy Twombly's.
Contemplating Cy Twombly's dark, scratchy, suggestive surface is rather like looking in a mirror in which you notice an aspect of your appearance that you had not paid much attention to before, except that what's at stake here is not a row of molars, but your inner experience. There are moods or states of mind (or soul) that are perplexingly elusive. One often has them, but can't isolate or examine them. ... 
de Botton goes on to describe the painting in more detail. Then he says:
We are held in the moment of being on the cusp of something. We are about to understand, but have not yet understood. This moment is important because it generally does not live up to its promise. We abandon the process of reflection. Not much of a decision about the personal meaning of love, justice or success is achieved, and we move on to something else. Looking at Twombly's painting assists us in a crucial thought: 'The part of me that wonders about important questions has not had enough recognition. I have not taken proper care of it. But now I see this part of myself reflected in the mirror of art, now I can make more of it.'
Oh, I love this! He put his finger on something central to my own art-making process, one that I often feel I have to apologize for.  Just hearing someone else describe that feeling of being in the place between understanding and not understanding is liberating for me.

Being comfortable with uncertainty is a theme of another book on my bedside table (I hear James laughing as he reads this - the book is actually in a stack on the floor beside the bed, there being no room on the bedside table.) The Antidote, by Oliver Burkeman, is subtitled Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, which sounds rather grumpy, but it is delightfully witty and sensible. He considers Stoicism, Buddhism, and acceptance of failure and insecurity as approaches to a more complex, satisfying and possibly happier life than the ones typically offered by self-help gurus. I particularly like his discussion of negative capability, wherein he quotes Aldous Huxley:
Proficiency and the results of proficiency come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, of combining relaxation with activity, of letting go as a person in order that the immanent and transcendent Unknown Quantity may take hold.
Yes, being in that place of uncertainty, of knowing and not knowing, being open - that is where art happens.

And finally, as part of my occasional research into matters psychological - I'm still trying to figure out what made Louis Nicolas tick - I came across a  brilliant talk by psychologist Joe Griffin, whose Irish accent I could listen to all day long, about his concept of caetextia, or concept blindness, as a more accurate description of autism. His talk is an hour long, and covers all kinds of amazing things like how our brains developed to allow dreaming, how to educate children to be better people and save the planet, and even why knitting permits greater concentration (you will have to watch right to the end to find that out!)
Click here to go to his site and watch the video: The REM State, Caetextia, and the Development of Self-Concept.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Supporting the Creative Process

For those of us who may have set some intentions for 2014, I hope that it is not too late in January to share some inspiring advice for keeping our noses to the grindstone and/or our feet on the pedal.

Novelist and memoirist Dani Shapiro offers a whole slew of worthy advice in her delightful little book: Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of the Creative Life, but what really struck me was the list that she says she has had pinned over her desk for the last 20 years, which comes from the poet Jane Kenyon.
Protect your time.
Feed your inner life.
Avoid too much noise.
Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.
Be by yourself as often as you can.
Take the phone off the hook.
Work regular hours.
(Dani says she would add:
Disable the internet.)
Then there are the 11 Steps of artist Robert Genn , whose twice-weekly letter I subscribe to and usually find quite interesting.

Step 1. Art is a perfectly complete cause.
Step 2. You are solely responsible for doing the work required to become better. 
Step 3. You are responsible for understanding your limitations. 
Step 4. You are responsible for radicalizing your strengths. 
Step 5. Make a searching and fearless inventory of your creative curiosity. 
Step 6. Pay no attention to the less courageous. 
Step 7. Learn from the greats, and expose yourself to better work. 
Step 8. Read in order to write, but paint in order to paint. 
Step 9. Be artistic, choose taste, set an example. 
Step 10. "Play" is your route to mastery. 
Step 11. In the art game we do our own cooking. 

And finally, I always return to the wise and funny "10 Rules of Thumb" offered by the brilliant furniture maker, Wendell Castle.

1. If you are in love with an idea, you are no judge of its beauty or value.
2. It is difficult to see the whole picture when you are inside the frame.
3. After learning the tricks of the trade, don't think you know the trade.
4. We see and apprehend what we already know.
5. The dog that stays on the porch will find no bones.
6. Never state a problem to yourself in the terms it was brought to you.
7. If it's offbeat or surprising then it's probably useful.
8. If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it.
9. Don't get too serious.
10. (And my personal favourite...) If you hit the bull's eye every time, then the target is probably too near.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

With Heart and Hand

It's time to wrap up the blog for another year. I look back with a mixture of exhaustion and exasperation - Did I really accomplish all that? And how come I didn't do more? I always have more projects in mind than are possible to achieve, so I am constantly feeling both slothful and overextended. Who needs enemies when I have myself? It's amazing that my creative spark continues to thrive.

In anticipation of the New Year, I have put another panel of the Codex embroidery into the frame. It's the page of the four little birds that always makes people exclaim, because Louis Nicolas gave one a red heart. It's so unusual in the context of the rest of the document, both for the rare use of colour and the sweetness of the symbolism amidst all the sharp claws and gnashing teeth of the other creatures. What the heck was going on in Louis' mind?
Image from the Library and Archives Canada
The bird is labelled "characaro", which I couldn't find a translation or reference of anywhere on the web, other than the original source. So it is a mystery, but if anybody has some insight into the meaning of this name, I would love to hear it.

I also have a pile of five kangaroo style jackets that I have to turn into zip-front cardigans for a walking club, looming large in my sewing room. The dread of such a job is much worse than actually just sitting down and doing it,  and so I shall.

But I am also excited and hopeful that Sherri Lynn Wood will choose me to try out one of her quilt templates for her new book The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters. Sherri Lynn has been so inspiring to me with her heartfelt, holistic approach to pushing the boundaries of contemporary craft practise.

And what do I wish for 2014, other than world peace and the reversal of climate change? I would like to nail down a show for the Codex work. And although I won't stop working on the other two, that third wish just might be achievable .

Thank you, dear readers, for dropping by over the past year, and may all your wishes come true in 2014.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Mark Making in Textile Art

I just borrowed Helen Parrott's Mark Making from the library and it's definitely going on my wish list. Her approach has developed over 20 years of quilting, embroidery and textile art, inspired by landscape and nature.
The cover of the Batsford (UK) edition actually reflects Parrott's work a little more accurately than the very colourful, ingeniously diecut Interweave edition, as her style is very much about repetition and texture.

The book would be an excellent text for an art school embroidery course, as it builds skills from the very basics, including the elements of design as per Bauhaus. It would also be interesting to use as a guide for a guild study group. Parrott makes some wonderful recommendations on tools and materials, and has a very warm, supportive writing voice. She is not aiming to turn her readers into imitations of herself, but encourages the development of a personal style. She also offers some solid ideas for keeping one's studio practice fresh and strategies for getting unstuck if felling caught in a rut.

It's a winner! And you could be too if you leave a comment on the Call it Karma Contest post I did a few days ago.

And, for another take on texile mark-making, do check out Judy Martin's latest masterwork .

Sunday, October 27, 2013

So Sad

Lou Reed has died. I am in shock. I guess this is my "John is dead" moment. The Beatles never meant much to me, but Lou Reed offered hope that there was room in the world for disaffected, outcast teenagers such as myself. I remember reading a quote of  his once: "It's good to be on the edge. You can see a lot farther from there."
Me in 1977. I embroidered "Sister Ray" on the t-shirt to denote my outsider status. ("Sister Ray" was a Velvet Underground song.) See! I knew I could bring in sewing somehow to this posting!
I have been lucky to see him perform live several times over the years, once actually doing spoken word poetry. He was the coolest of the cool.

Patti Smith wrote this piece in the New Yorker.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

One of My Heroes

From Karen Reimer's website

Karen Reimer is an artist who I have always liked, yet whose work is so close to my own that I consciously avoid looking at it too much for fear of either being too influenced by it, or neurotically just giving up because I will never do anything as good as hers.

But I did look her up today and found this interview with her on Mr X Stitch. It's great.

I especially love how she describes her work as "craft-based, concept-driven, and labor-intensive". That sure does it for me.

Friday, October 11, 2013

An Internet Search for Meaning

Mike Bruce, courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery
Edmund de Waal's "Atemwende, I" (2013), 476 porcelain vessels arrayed on an aluminum and plexiglass cabinet, at Gagosian Gallery.
As I have just read, with great pleasure and moments of surprising sorrow, Edmund de Waal's The Hare with the Amber Eyes, I was interested to find out more about a show of his ceramic work at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. Today, after finishing the NYT online kenken puzzle, my eye strayed to the sidebar where current articles are listed and there was a review of de Waal's show, Atemwende. I clicked. Critic Roberta Smith is obviously no fan of his work. She doesn't mince words:
"Time spent with Mr. de Waal’s work can teach a lot about the nuances of ceramics, but his work is ostentatiously precious and ultimately naïve. It forces a pastiche of received art ideas through the sieve of a different medium, gaining a physical distinctiveness, but little more. Too bad he found ceramics itself so deficient." 
Ouch! What a slam! It hit me personally, as my own work might be described in the same way, substituting "stitching" for "ceramics". (I am my own worst critic, and Ms. Smith's words seem cuttingly familiar.)

Seeking some balance, I looked up the meaning of the German title of the exhibit. Atemwende mean "turning of the breath." Oh, how beautiful. Google also provided me with links to some ways the term is used, and led me to a quote from Paul Celan, poet, translator, essayist, and lecturer, influenced by French Surrealism and Symbolism. (Who I had never heard of before...)

“Poetry is perhaps this: an Atemwende, a turning of our breath. Who knows, perhaps poetry goes its way—the way of art—for the sake of just such a turn? And since the strange, the abyss and Medusa’s head, the abyss and the automaton, all seem to lie in the same direction—is it perhaps this turn, this Atemwende, which can sort out the strange from the strange? It is perhaps here, in this one brief moment, that Medusa’s head shrivels and the automaton runs down? Perhaps, along with the I, estranged and freed here, in this manner, some other thing is also set free?”

Whoa! Celan was obviously given to some deep and dark thoughts. Not surprisingly, since he was born between wars in Cernăuţi, at the time Romania, now Ukraine, he lived in France, and wrote in German. His parents were killed in the Holocaust; the author himself escaped death by working in a Nazi labor camp. 

I kept searching and was led to Keith Harvey's blog. He discusses  his reading of Celan's book of poetry, also titled  Atemwende, concentrating on the first lines:
Du darfst mich getrost/ mit Schnee bewirten (You may confidently/entertain me with snow.)
"The image of snow is an allusion to the time of the camps where there was little or no actual nourishment, only ash and snow to fill the mouths of the starving prisoners. So, perhaps, he is saying that he will allow himself to be celebrated through snow, an icy nourishment but nourishment nevertheless."
All of which leads me to believe that Edmund de Waal knew exactly what he was doing in his installations. Ash and snow? Rows of white and black vessels, each one unique, yet on first glance indistinct from its shelfmates? I can't help but see a direct reference to Celan and his poetry dealing with his experience in the camps.

As his book reveals, deWaal is a deeply thoughtful artist, a researcher with the heart of a poet, and whose Jewish family suffered irreparable losses during the Second World War. All that is left of his family and their fortune is a vitrine filled with tiny netsuke, Japanese carvings, inherited by de Waal, and the inspiration for his book.
In this context I see de Waal's ceramic work as deeply personal. Wish I could see the show in person.

I'll end with another quote, this one from author Willa Cather. I don't know the context of this line, but I have carried it around with me for several years. It seems fitting here:
"The irregular and intimate quality of things made entirely by the human hand."
P.S. The title of this post is, of course, a play on Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Which is, of course, relevant. I'm no dummy. But I do have to get off the computer. I could be following this trail of crumbs forever.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Sew Like the Wind

Photo by Felix Clay, from The Guardian
Irish poet Seamus Heaney died yesterday. The New York Times has a nice obit. Here is a line from it that really struck me as being great advice for anyone in the arts:
In the 1984 collection, “Station Island,” he wrote: “The main thing is to write for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust that imagines its haven like your hands at night, dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast. You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous. Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest.”
As my favourite time of year for working approaches, I think I should pin that up above my sewing table.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spring Reading

Sugar Says poster available through The Rumpus
Whether I need it or not, I seem to be encountering a torrent of inspiration and advice. Maybe I'm just in a receptive mode, or maybe the universe has decided I am in need of guidance. Whatever the reason, I have been reading a collection of the fantastically earthy, wise and heart-centred Dear Sugar columns. Cheryl Strayed is the voice behind Dear Sugar, who I had not heard of until encountering her on Brain Pickings. ( I recommend Brain Pickings too. It arrives in my mailbox on Sunday morning and I spend a pleasant hour with a cup of tea exploring the stories and links.)

Cheryl Strayed is the author of Wild, a book that came out last year. I went to reserve it at the library and found out I'm 158th on the waiting list. And they have 12 copies!

I'm also reading two different books on the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry: Needle in the Right Hand of God and The Invention of Truth. Both quite fascinating. You'll find out why I have been diverted by what is probably the world's most well-known piece of textile art when I next post about the Codex. Yes, I'm still stitching away on that, more slowly than I would like, but still going. The quilt-for-hire projects is about three-quarters done, a little behind schedule, but I do think the end is in sight.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tree Trust True

Detail from Gustav Klimt's Tree of Life
The other night, I was reading Aiden Meehan's book on the Celtic approach to drawing the Tree of Life. In his introduction, he mentions that the words "tree", "trust", "true" and even "Druid" come from the same proto Indo-European root. As you might guess, I love this idea.

I googled the 3 "T" words just to see what came up, and was intrigued to find Tree Trust True, a sculpture created by a California artist's collective called Deep Craft. The piece is a long table created from a Douglas Fir windfall, with bowls carved into the surface. These bowls were filled with local produce for a site-specific installation celebrating local food. Five years later, the group dismantled the table, which had been a popular outdoor gathering place, and moved it to the site where the tree originally grew. The process is documented here: The Return.

While exploring Deep Craft's site, I came across their Deep Craft Manifesto. It's well worth checking out in its long form, but 67 directives do not make for a quick study. Here are a few of my favourites:

8. All vessels originate with an imagined voyage.
9. Perfection is impossible to maintain.
13. Deep Craft is a system of arranging things and relationships in such a way as to improve their value as well as the conditions that sustain the value.
19. Art reduces the boundaries between work and thought. Traditional craft makes the distinction obsolete; both art and handicraft are most robust when the two are fused.
29. Encourage beneficial loops and a gift economy.
37. Kind, Courteous, Friendly, Helpful, Loyal, Trustworthy, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, Reverent
40. Trust in an ethos of ‘exuberant frugality’.
43. Making the time for a lovely lunch is a fundamental privilege, motivation and reward for any hard-working artisan.
49. Seek out the unexplored edges.

And so on... Deep Craft may be talking about their own practise of working with wood, but the ideas apply to textiles, clay - in fact, life in general. It's an approach that appeals to me, well, deeply.

While we're on the subject of manifestos, may I direct you to what has turned out to be one of my most popular posts in my little blogs history. Wendell Castle's 10 Adopted Rules of Thumb is the work of one of the most innovative furniture designers of the 20th century. I just posted his list, so can take none of the credit for the brilliance and clarity of that particular post. But it is a good one.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Especially the Surprise Yourself Part

The above sentiment has probably been seen all over the place, but since I don't do Facebook, I came across it at Craftivism. Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite creative minds, and, well, his New Year's wish is hard to argue with. And, in somewhat the same vein, Craftivism's Betsy Greer has a new project that I'm happy to contribute to : The Little Book of Craftivism.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Sharing the Stitch

Pieced and stitched by Jude Hill
Several years ago, I was blessed to receive a work of Jude Hill's in the mail. It was, amazingly, a gift, in response to some precious bits of Japanese cloth I had sent her. Since that time, I have followed Jude's well-deserved rise in the blogging world, and I know that many of my dear readers have found their way to me via her blog Spirit Cloth. This piece of Jude's stitching has always had a place somewhere in my house, either welcoming guests in the front hallway. offering solace by my bedside or currently, a celestial backdrop to the laughing Buddha. I just wanted to give public thanks to Jude, artist, friend, and generous, open-hearted inspiration to so many.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Time Out

I am on Bowen Island for a couple of weeks, housesitting for my brother and his wife, who are off in Winnipeg performing her play "The Jackie Show". They tell me it has been very well received, so I am happy for them. They are lovely talented people. My brother built the house that I am sitting, and it reflects his thoughtful and whimsical spirit.
Above is looking out from the deck over to his workshop, which happens to have a sod roof. Various mosses and hardy succulents have self seeded themselves over the years.
He has a place to sit and look out towards the ocean. The sun is just setting here, and the warm light makes the plants glow.
This is looking towards the back of the property from the deck. When he bought the land it was just a mess of blasted rock. Over time he built pathways and walls from the rubble, and the cleared rock face turned out to have enough water trickling over it to form a pool at its base. A miraculously placed piece of circular stairway was one of my brother's inspirations.

I am spending my time in the garden, weeding and playing ball with Gracie. Her favourite game is to drop the ball in the pond and stick her face under the water to retrieve it. If the ball is too deep she looks forlornly at me until I roll up my pant legs and go wading to fetch it, which she finds particularly amusing. Ah, the simple pleasures of a dog.

I have also been filling in for my brother on his daily visits to a lady with ALS. Her illness is quite advanced, and she communicates by blinking her eyes, not being able to speak or move any other part of her body. I read to her and rub her feet, and am learning the communication system used in "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly". I would say she is very patient with my bumbling way with the alphabet, but it is arrogant of me to assume and really, impossible to know. I can tell she is deeply sympathetic - yesterday the TV news was on, and a couple of awful stories brought tears to her eyes. She is very pretty and still quite young, having just retired to Bowen when her illness was diagnosed. I found it hard to get to sleep last night thinking of her. It is quite humbling to spend time with her and makes my own little travails seem quite insignificant.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Elaine Reichek and Me

Elaine Reichek is an artist I admire wholeheartedly, who currently has a solo show at New York's Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, as well as being a standout in the current Whitney Biennial. Intense as my admiration is, though, I find myself avoiding her work, because it is like looking in a much smarter and more talented mirror. It's impossible to say that without sounding like a jerk, so there ya go, I know I sound like a jerk.

I first discovered Reichek about six years ago, when I picked up a shopworn copy of her book When This You See..., beautifully documenting her show of the same name at the Museum of Modern Art in 2000. I was instantly struck with the conceptual similarities between her work and mine, even though hers was of course much smarter and better executed. I bought the book and read it thoroughly, with feverish awe and some jealousy (to be honest). Then I put it on my shelf and studiously avoided it, except for when I had to pack it for moving, when I would be re-acquainted with how brilliant Reichek's work is.

So, while leafing through a recent copy of the New Yorker, I saw that Reichek had a new show. I made a mental note to look it up online, and promptly forgot about it, as happens with mental notes. Two weeks later, leafing through the same New Yorker, I saw the notice again, and this time went and looked her up. The links are at the beginning of this post, and if you didn't check them out when you started reading, go and do it now. I'll wait. Go ahead and Google her as well if you like, since I know you will be amazed. I won't be offended if you don't see any similarity between her work and mine, either.

Remember how I have been talking about the idea of translation as one of the aspects of my exploration of the Codex Canadensis? Read Reichek's artist statement. Gah, I hadn't seen that until ten minutes ago, and there she is, talking about her concept of translation, in a much more coherent and thoughtful way than I ever have.

Here is a quote used at the beginning of When this You See...
Masters of embroidery know that it is not enough to follow faithfully the drawing traced: the expert needlewoman must be in possession of the nature of the drawing, to give to it with each stitch the appearance of life, sometimes life itself. The vibration of a wave lies not only in the perfect placing of the woolen thread, and the passing of the needle in the cloth follows an interior movement that is not exhausted by the mechanical gesture.
- Marta Morazzoni, The Invention of Truth

Just as I was trying to say in my convoluted way in my last couple of postings. If I let myself dwell on it, it could be galling to keep encountering someone who does what I am trying to do, but just does it do much better.

It's not that I think I am as good as Elaine Reichek, or would have been were it not for life's circumstances. It's more like every time I encounter her work I get a good smack upside the head, and need to remind myself that it's not too surprising that similar strategies have appeared in both our work over the years: needlework, knitting, the use of found quotations, mirrored images, flying carpets, a combination of literary references and pattern, feminism and the idea of "women's work", interest in native North American culture, mythology, etc.

These similarities are perhaps not so surprising because we covered the same ground in our educations. Reichek studied under some of the greats of American post-expressionist art. I studied under the next generation of that same tradition, which gave me a similar theoretical groundwork. But I obviously didn't work as hard, nor was I as confident. And I fell off the career path long ago.

One of the interesting things about Reichek's work is that she has always positioned herself as a conceptual artist. None of this tiresome art versus craft debate. It would probably help my muddled thinking if I could be as clear about what I do as she is, and I wouldn't be getting so upset about silly contemporary embroidery books.

So, with that intention, I shall return to my embroidery frame with renewed energy and a great thanks to Elaine Reichek for doing what she does so very, very well.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Let's Have an Erica Love Fest!

I had no idea that Erica Wilson, mother of the 1970's needlework revival, had passed away on December 13th, 2011. Does the CBC (where I seem to get all my information these days) have no sense of priority? What the hell were their journalists doing reporting on Stephen Harper's latest abuse of power? Anna Maria Tremonti totally missed the chance to talk about the millions of people Erica inspired to take up needlework and knitting. Jian Ghomeshi could have actually started a program with one of his pseudo-hipster essays on how crewel embroidery made our cultural landscape richer and more inclusive.

But no. I (and apparently the entire Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) totally missed the news. Several years ago, I wrote a bit about Erica when I made one of her Christmas bird ornament kits. Since then, I have scooped up her books whenever I come across them at the thrift store. We have much to thank her for: clear instruction, vivid, innovative design, and a wide ranging enthusiasm for the textile arts. Her classic, lady-like style might even be somewhat responsible for the backlash trend of "Not Your Mother's Embroidery"-type work we see today.

I have never seen her TV show, but I love the NY Times comparison of her to Julia Child. I imagine this tall, blonde woman with a Scottish accent, enthusiastic plying her needle and thread, miraculously pulling finished work from the hoop just minutes after beginning a piece. She made it seem effortless, and, like Julia, changed the domestic aspirations of a generation of women (and a few men.)

Do you have memories of Erica Wilson? Did you ever make one of her kits or learn from one of her books? Please share your stories.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Her Creativity Knows No Bounds

(Photo by Benny Paulino,

My friend Gretchen Elsner has done it again. I have written about her incredibly inventive re-working of old cloth before, but her latest collection is astonishing.

Much of the fabric she has used came from vintage wool kimonos that were sent to me by my friend Jean-Pierre in Japan, and that I forwarded to Gretchen in Athens, Georgia. A lot of mailing around but finally these fabrics are singing.

Gretchen has also been busy building her own home on wheels: a custom travel trailer, as well as actively participating in democracy via social and environmental justice movements. She's a dynamo!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bad Blogger

That's me. I've been gone for so long I'm even beginning to question whether or not I have anything further to say. But, in lieu any new work of my own - all I've been doing is carding mountains of local fleece - I thought I might offer a book review.

Push Stitchery is a new offering from Lark, "curated" by Jamie Chalmers of Mr. X Stitch fame. It is beautifully printed and bound, and features 30 artists who "explore the boundaries of stitched art." I was familiar with many of the artists already, but put down cash for the book because of the few from outside of the USA and UK who were new to me.

I settled down for a nice couple of hours in front of the woodstove, leafing through the pages. It's totally my kind of thing, but I must confess to some disappointment. First of all, I found the range of work quite uneven, with some artists displaying great technical mastery and conceptual innovation, while others appeared to lack professional polish. Chalmers doesn't discuss his "curatorial" concept, other than mentioning the pushing of boundaries. The artists give their own blurbs, apparently in answer to a few stock questions. I would have much preferred a cogent discussion of why the artists were chosen, and in depth comment on some of the trends that are evident (the number of photographers and printmakers that add stitch to their images, the overuse of shocking images to transgress the cliche of female domesticity.)

I was very pleased to be introduced to the work of Lithuanian artist Severija Inciruskate-Kriauneviciene, who cross stitches on drilled metal buckets, shovels and car doors. As well, the rich, earthy and monumental work of Britain's Clyde Olliver, who combines stitch and slate, was an exciting discovery for me. Canada's Anna Torma and The Netherlands' Tilleke Schwartz are favourites of mine, and it was great to see new works of theirs included. The meticulous and refined graphic works of Peter Crawley of the UK, stitching on paper, were a standout for me too.

Although all of the artists included here can be found online, I like books. I can see taking Push Stitchery down from the shelf now and then for inspiration, and it's nice to have examples to show people who aren't familiar with current trends in embroidery and quilting. But I would recommend getting your library to order it and have a look before investing your own money in it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Something Amazing: Updated

I'm totally thrown off my blogging game by the move, recent gall bladder surgery, etc,etc. I even have a couple of posts in the can that I haven't published yet, 'cause I haven't got them right. But I just saw this amazing video that I must share with you. It totally blows my paltry excuses for not accomplishing what I would like to. It just went up on Youtube - the filmmakers will be remaining anonymous until the end of the week, when everyone will know about it, but here's a sneak preview. Here's the link:
Renaissance Man
It doesn't feature any textiles, but has everything to do with intention and possibility.

* Here's the update! The filmmaker, Kai Nagata, has now gone public with the film. Check it out here: Kai's blog. YOu might remember Kai from this past summer, when he made a splash quitting his high profile news reporter job. He's just 24 years old, and I think he made the right move.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My New Hero

Kai Nagata has nothing to do with textiles. But he has everything to do with integrity, vision, and action. I encourage you to take the time (allow a good hour) to read both postings on his blog Freedom 24, and to delve as well into the comments.

Kai, a 24-year-old journalist who just quit his plum job in Canadian media, has sparked a remarkable discussion that resonates far beyond his own personal circumstances. The response he has received goes far beyond side-taking, no matter how much the trolls are trying to make it about politics. The really inspiring effect of his posting is how his his words and actions have helped so many people re-discover hope within themselves - and from the overall content of the comments, his message has sparked the hearts of thousands of intelligent, caring people who want to see change happen.

How that change might happen is up in the air. But I think I can truly say that I have not encountered such a passionate, optimistic outpouring of voices since, well, maybe ever. That it happened on a lazy summer weekend, completely via the Internet and alternative media is astonishing. It heartens me to hear so many young people who are articulate and committed to making the world a better place. It is, after all, this bleeding piece of earth that they will have to contend with once we're done.