My main volunteer activity during this last year has been organizing people and funds to give books to students in our local schools. Almost 90% of the kids in our two schools are low-income, and many have Spanish as a first language. With some friends, we created a local chapter of First Book, an affiliate of a national organization that has a huge online bookstore where teachers and other adults who work with low-income children can be granted funds to shop for books, which then are sent home with the kids. We've raised a substantial amount of money from local foundations and individuals, and we're busily making grants.
As a result of this activity, we've also been awarded a truckload of books to give away. The "Books on Wheels" truck will arrive on Monday, delivering approximately 10,000 unsorted books in large cartons. We've recruited volunteers to sort the books. Next Saturday teachers and agency representatives from three counties will descend on Eagle Lake to carry home suitcases full of books from Disney and Hyperion Press. It should be quite an event for our little town.
I had planned to spend today getting concepts together for a new art project--but the emails and texts about Books on Wheels have taken up most of the day. Details, details. Still, it's a great project; I'll post a couple of photos after the event.
Tomorrow my Thread Songs fiber group meets, which will goose me to work harder on the new stuff.
This week I had arranged to visit friend Barbara with some of the "This Blue Chair" pieces I have been making in series. Barbara is a retired art teacher, and I rely on her expertise in a lot of things I know nothing about--she understands the standards of the art world out there. I had asked for a critique and some help with "my mounting skills," meaning the mounting of these fiber art pieces on stretched canvas. Barbara, bless her charitable heart, thought I referred to some great improvement in my skills (maybe a watercolor breakthrough of stupendous proportions?)
Here's my box of the seven pieces completed so far. The ones on the left were gallery-wrapped by me, and the three on the right were re-mounted with Barbara's help. You can see the improvement--wrinkles eliminated, nice square corners. This is not easy to do. It will take some practice; fortunately I have a year to work on the series.
Prior to undertaking the task, we had this interesting conversation where Barbara, a true detail person, tried really hard to be encouraging about my efforts. "Well, with your kind of folk-art approach, it could be acceptable, could look all right." Finally I just said, "No, this is going into an art gallery. I don't want it to look 'made with loving hands at home' (as my mother would say). I want these pieces to look professional." Well, then, off we went into the studio to pull the staples and re-do them. We completed three; I'll attack the rest later this week. My mounting skills are, indeed, mounting. This is cool.
That was Tuesday. Wednesday morning I went out to look for the newspaper and discovered a large, flat package on my front step. It turned out to be a wonderful birthday gift from my sister GeeGee--a Guatemalan mola beautifully stretched and framed. I wandered around the house looking for the perfect placement, and decided that the red wall in the master bath would set it off the best.
On my monitor, the wall looks almost coral. It's not--that is a nice Indian red which almost perfectly matches the knitted hand towel hanging below (made by friend Margot). In any case, the mola looks great in this room decorated with Talavera tiles and 1955-style black and white floor and counters.
And I love the caduceus with the birds in the mola. It's good to memorialize all those years in nursing, even though I don't practice these days.
So, today I am another year older. Son Phil and I share the same birthday; we will celebrate this evening with a festive dinner.
I've mentioned several times that my son Phil and his wife Kristi are renovating their 1910 house, two blocks from mine. This has been going on since February, and it took a long time to see light at the end of the tunnel. Now, however, the workmen are gone and the younger Nolans are putting the house back together. Everything is out of the storage unit and gradually being put away. Construction dust continually being vacuumed up. There are details to finish (drawer pulls in the kitchen, for example), paint to touch up, but the whole house is usable once again. Such a relief. Such a joy.
It is a nice, big room, but décor and appliances were seriously outdated. Kristi is a wonderful cook; she and Phil had agreed that making the kitchen really usable, with quality stove, refrigerator, freezer, ice machine, dishwasher, etc. would be a major focus of the remodel.
Things like drywall, insulation, rewiring, plumbing took a while and a lot of resources. They're not sexy, but will make a tremendous difference in the comfort of the house.
We were very glad that our friend Gil wanted to salvage the knotty pine paneling for a building he's remodeling. So while we emptied cupboards in preparation for the demolition, Gil was right behind us with his crowbar.
In fact, sometimes it seemed as though he would get ahead of us--"Quit talking, guys. Gil is ready to start on that wall!"
For all these months they have been eating in the carpentry shop out back, cooking with microwave and hotplate, lots of carryout food. Occasionally dinner at my house, bringing things to be cleaned in the dishwasher.
So, here's the new kitchen. Lots to be completed (curtains for the new windows, selecting places for various decorative thingies, some herbs, major decisions on what goes where) but the oven works, the ice maker is making, the fans revolve, and a lovely dinner of braised shortribs in wine sauce was a roaring success.
Don't they look happy and relaxed? Finally.
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend and discussed the décor in one of her bedrooms. She had bought a gorgeous Turkish hand-embroidered textile (shades of blue on a natural background) which wasn't quite big enough as a spread or duvet on the bed, so the challenge was whether to add something to the sides--and then, what? She had ordered some silk ikat pieces; these were absolutely lovely and felt wonderful, but they didn't enhance the embroidered work as she had hoped. So we talked about alternatives, upholstery prints that she could use, painting on the taupe-on-taupe fabric she plans to use for curtains in the room. At every turn in the conversation, discovered imperfections in the plan. Seams in the embroidered textile weren't perfect. In many places the embroiderer had changed thread color in mid-stem. Some motifs were unfinished, the pencil marks still showing around the empty petals. And what if the colors in the added fabrics didn't match perfectly?
This is not my obsession, but I do find that after a conversation with Shirley I pay more attention to details. And indeed, there are challenges in using handmade textiles. I've found, for instance, that it's a good idea to wash them gently before using; often there's a lot of sizing, sometimes excess dye, and just plain dirt in the wash water. You do take a chance by washing as dyes may crock--but a mudcloth throw that's still stiff with mud is a lot more useful on the table after a bath. Another challenge is matching patterns when stitching pieces together. Handwoven textiles often don't match precisely; there are variations in the size of the yarns and the tension of the weaving as well as variations in dye-lot colors.
To me, this is an important part of the charm--somebody made this, and then she stopped to cook lunch and then started up again in a slightly different place, and so the wings of the bird don't quite come together precisely. I love that! I can imagine how she sat at the loom (in a chair? on a bench? on the ground?) and whether it was hot and humid, indoors or outdoors, in a quiet place or in a chaotic market. Maybe she only had time to weave or stitch when the kids were sleeping or at school; maybe she succeeded in making them be quiet because she had to finish the piece in order to get paid that week
This is one of my favorite pieces, a huipil hand woven in Guatemala.
You can see that it was woven in two strips, then sewn together in the center. Of course, the horizontal stripes don't match, one bird is cut off, and the color of the bottom stripe has changed.
I think the idiosyncracies are part of what makes this garment delightful. Yes, I do wear it with slacks from time to time, with a tank underneath (because the armholes are pretty large). And yes, people do look at me funny. But one day, when I was wearing it in Austin, a guy whistled and yelled, "Great huipil, Lady!" I don't often get whistled at--but I'll take what I can get.
And here is the real reason I bought the huipil--it has Adam and Eve on the shoulders! Apparently wearing long underwear, or catsuits.
I just couldn't resist that.
We can buy handmade things and call them art and hang them on the wall, or we can call them "folk art" and consider them quirky and ourselves superior for forgiving their imperfections (which seems pretty condescending to me). People hurled insults at the Impressionists, the Fauves, the Abstractionists and probably every other new school of art over time. A lot of them collected "primitive" art from Africa, not because it was folk art, but because it exhibited incredibly sophisticated use of mass and line in ways far outside what they had been taught. They learned from it and acknowledged the debt.
Art isn't perfection--in fact, "perfection" is probably irrelevant to art. I look for the hand of the maker and the invitation to share the vision of another. It's an act of courage to throw your vision out to the public, whether it's a shawl or a sculpture. I can copy that, too.
Bobbe Shapiro Nolan, Fiber Artist in Eagle Lake, TX. Trying to learn to call the sewing room my studio, and myself an artist. I retired after 15 years in hospice nursing--so now I have the time!.