This life is a wheel, I think, ever turning, sometimes it seems to slow but never stops. Recently there have been friends who have died in their elder stages of life, the wheel turns. Today photos of a new baby arrived in my inbox, smiling tired parents and sleeping baby, I knew this woman when she was just a girl and now she’s a mom…the wheel turns again. We received a wedding announcement for a young couple who found each other at the camp where we work what wonder this turning wheel brings. Is it the wheel of a traveling carriage on a long journey? Or perhaps the spinning wheel, turning fibers into threads to weave into the tapestry of life. I think that might be it, threads sturdy and strong, threads thin and tenuous. All to be dyed and woven into to the cloth of their purpose. A garment, a blanket, a shelter. Worn to tatters as is the way of the turning wheel never stopping, only slowing now and again for us to notice if we happen to be paying attention.
This is a fabric collage piece I just completed inspired by this moment of noticing the wheel. Thank you to Joan and Ralph who have recently died, thank you for showing me a bit of the tapestry of your life sharing your shelter, wisdom and comfort. Thank you baby Solomon and his parents Calen and Myron for reminding me that the wheel that turns to death also turns to life, and thank you Colby and Noelle for inviting us to witness the turning of the wheel once more, the twining of your lives from two threads to one that will be long, beautiful and sturdy.
I have been busy, I feel like I’m always busy – I am in perpetual motion and while I proport to be an artist not enough of my time is spent making art. By far I spend more time promoting my art workshops, designing new workshops, writing about new techniques, and teaching than I do making. I am forever in an internal conversation about the balance of teaching and making. I do enjoy both and to be frank I couldn’t make a living on just the art – people hunger to open up their creative hearts and I love to help them through my workshops. But sometimes I want to make for the making, not because I’m going to teach a workshop and I need a sample, not because I’m going to write a magazine article and need to pitch an idea – just make. So, this week despite an anvils weight of anxiety about all the things I need to do for an upcoming workshop and art sale, despite the fact that there are always contacts I should be making and connections I should be deepening, and despite the absolute mess in my studio, despite all this I chose to make. And what do you suppose I chose to paint? A still life. What a wonderful term – Still Life.
Still –noun -deep silence and calm; stillness – Synonyms quietness, silence, stillness, hush, soundlessness, noiselessness, calmness, calm, tranquility, peace, peacefulness, peace and quiet, serenity
Life –noun – the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death – Synonyms existence, being, living, animation, aliveness, entity, sentience, creation
What an interesting parring – perhaps that is why artists are drawn to create a still life. Something in the tug between stillness and animation the juxtaposition of tranquility and change. A still life is capturing a quiet moment in the act of changing. The fruit will wither the flower fade the moment in between is caught up in the still life.
Unbeknownst to me – in the chaos of my week, my month, my year – still life called. Despite that fact that I didn’t have time for making this week, I didn’t have room for making this week- still life called. I’m so glad it did and I’m so glad I listened. The making of these two paintings calmed me, readied me, revived me. The stillness in the action brought me back into my body and breath and made me ready for this weekend’s teaching – this month’s selling and showing.
I give thanks to the universe for showing me this perfect persimmon, this fecund pomegranate and whispering in my ear to stop, to make and observe this quiet, abundant moment – to allow and honor – Still Life.
It is Tuesday morning and I’m enjoying the rain that continues to fall outside my window. I donned by rubber-boots, raincoat and rain-pants and went for my first rubber-boot walk of what I hope will be a nice wet rainy season here in parched Sonoma County, California. Fully protected from the downpour, I could rejoice in the sound, smell, touch and even taste of the rain. I found myself fully in the moment, relishing the plopping sound of the fat raindrops as they accumulated on the bay laurel and released to the leafy forest floor below. Oh and the smell, the smell is divine, a mixture of the spicy smell of the bay trees and the licorice smell of the wild fennel tall and dry along the road as well as a smell that is all its own – the smell of fresh rain on dry ground – to be more precise petrichor. I didn’t know this word until my friend Jennifer shared it with me. Petrichor means “the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry grounds”. A pair of Australian scientists coined the word in 1964 and I found a surprisingly beautiful video that shows how this aroma is released into the air here is the link.
So I am blessed this day to have experienced this feast of the senses this morning and to be reminded once again to observe this brilliant moment. That phrase has become a bit of a mantra from me and I hope it will remind you to seek wonder every day.
The painting above is a new one. It is titled This is Now. I finished the painting last week and hung at Gallery 300 in Sebastopol CA, yesterday. The inspiration for this piece came from an entry in my sketchbook from some time ago that said only this: This is Now, this is Today – Yesterday is gone – Tomorrow is not yet here – What shall I do? – Who shall I be?
I was asked the the Journey Center in Santa Rosa to create a art quilt addressing the upcoming one year anniversary of the Sonoma County fires. Lately I have been doing a lot of botanical printing on fabric so it seemed like a natural fit to use leaves as my central metaphor. For the piece I used leaves from trees native to the oak woodlands that burned and remain a scar on the physical and psychic landscape. My piece starts at the bottom in a gradation of color. Each row depicts another point in the fire and the aftermath. The bottom row shows the green leaves of Valley Oak, Black Walnut, and Bay Laurel engulfed in the red and orange of flames, the next row the leaves and surround are all flames each row a progression from leaf to flame to ash to leaf again. If nothing else the fire have taught us that nature is persistent she does not give up easily the green shoots and leaves push up through the charred earth, scorched black trunks put forth new shoots. The human spirit is equally on display – a will to rebuild with a new deeper knowledge of the importance of home and community.
My work and the work of many others will be on display at the Sonoma County Strong Quilt Show at the Journey Center1601 Fourth Street Santa Rosa, CA 95404. The opening is September 21st from 5:30-7:30 and the show runs til November 2nd.
This past week my extended family gathered to help pack up my mom’s life in the sprawling home she built with my father some 30 years ago to move into a two-room apartment at the back of my house. Needless to say, this means things need to be let go. This wasn’t a sudden decision, so my mom has had over 6 months to start sorting into three piles: keep, give away, dump. At the beginning my mom was reluctant to let some precious items go even though she knew she wouldn’t use them because frankly she didn’t use them now. Things like a porcelain tea pot my grandma made that was shoved in the back of a cupboard for 30 years since the last move, old photo albums with unidentified pictures, my dad’s report cards from middle school. When you have space you just fill the void but moving forces a cleansing especially a move like this one. My Mom read “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter”. This book helped her a lot to let things go, she tried to pass things on to family but there are just some things nobody wants and those just had to go.
I even had a reckoning of my own in this cleaning process. When my parents moved to this past home they told we three children that they would store a foot lockers worth of items in their attic. They give us each a small trunk and at 18 looking at the precious items in my bedroom I chose the things that were sacred and special to me then. The pile of dolls pictured above is a collection from my sister and I’s trunks. I also saved a vast stack of Cricket Magazines, for some reason the stories and art in those magazines were prized to me at one time but for the life of me now I couldn’t fathom why I’d kept them for over 35 years. There were the a bean bag dolls called Larry Legs that my Grandma made and a red metal cash register. In the end I only kept the red cash register and even that I’m not sure why.
It’s interesting what we save. Some things out of inertia – it gets put on a shelf on a whim and never touched again till moving day. Other things we wrap in velvet and ribbon a put in our underwear drawer for safe keeping- love letters, old photos, wedding garments – proof of our youth and wild ways. But mostly it’s just stuff, pretty stuff, interesting stuff but in the end just stuff. One day to be put into three piles: keep, give away, dump.
I’m grateful my mom is coming to live with me. It will be a beautiful, joyous, maddening, wonderful, difficult transition. But she and I are both up to the challenge, both ready to hold on to what really matters – love of course – the rest, as we all know, is really just stuff.