Work of Heart in Progres Day Five – whew!

Things went well today and I got her finished!

I finished the base last night.  I really love it when it gets to this stage and I can stop being careful and constructive.  I can start really being creative, draping fabrics, letting seams show and adding found objects.

wire for the vine
wrapping the wire in fabric

Okay, I got the wire wrapped and used embroidery thread to secure it and then I really got into it and stopped taking pictures.  I added hand painted fabric leaves.  I repeated the motif of the butterfly heart and added a butterfly broach I found at a thrift shop.    I sewed and tacked down things.  I used big visible stitches and thought about how much it helped me, as a young girl, when kind people helped me stitch together the various parts of my broken life.  The kindness people did for me kept me from despair and helped me blossom.  I hope that sense of repair and renewal comes through in this piece — Spring From The Heart.

Spring from the Heart
Growth starts in the heart
The base
Heart side
spring from the side
growth close-up

I took the following photo on my husband’s dresser.  It’s the last thing I see every night when I go to sleep.  Do you think my dreams influenced this piece?

among the plants
Joy and her Art Doll

Tomorrow off she goes from Portland to Memphis to be part of the 19th Annual Works of Heart Art Auction on February 12th.  I miss her already!  For more information on the auction please follow this link:

The Survivor

I finished The Survivor.  She is 14″ tall on a 10″ x 7″ bass wood base.  The fabric is hand-stitched pearlized cotton.  Her hair is 100% wool.  Glass beads, wire armatures and acrylic paint.  Scroll down past the slide show if you want to look at the details.  She’s a little hard to photograph, but I think you can see most of the detail.

She follows the mystery of her own life.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Autumn Inspirations

Sorry I haven’t posted in awhile, but between the Chronically Inspired Workshop and the Portland Open Studios, I’ve been pretty inspired.  I’ve also been deeply lost in thought about life and death, the thoughts and meditations that seem to arise in Autumn.

I had a wonderful conversation with Sara Swink, a vibrant ceramic artist,, about the art I make related to bodies in transformation.  She told me of a piece she made that came out of the kiln cracked at the breast and a woman who saw it and loved it, because it reminded her of her mastectomy scar.

A scar of any kind is a bit can be interpreted as a flaw, but it is really a mark of survival — and I have to say I admire the knitted skin of a scar much more than the delicate patterns of tattoos.  I have seen some artful tattoos patterned around scars but I think a scar itself is a powerful symbol of renewal and the body’s yearning to heal and be whole.  I have a scar from a major cut on my thumb and a major surgery on my wrist.  It has a long seam one little keloid bump that I interpret as a web.  You can’t see it very well in this photo, but in person it’s dramatic.  The skin is strong and smooth.  My hand works perfectly every day in spite of the fact that the thumb was cut to the bone and might have never worked if they hadn’t sewn it back together.  The knob of  my wrist bone broke off in a fall and was put back together with a screw.  Ahh, the miracle hand.

Miracle hand

One of the women in my Chronically Inspired class almost died from Lupus a few months ago, and she now has a tracheotomy scar on her neck.  For a long time she wouldn’t look in the mirror, then she felt like she should wear a scarf to keep from scaring people — but she got hot.  Now she barely thinks about it.  It’s a line, a life-line, a neck jewel that says survival.

So I got the idea to do an homage to scars, and have been working on doll who has had a mastectomy called Survivor, a sculpted doll about 18″ high.  It’s gone through many transformations (no surprise) and taught me a lot about how to balance things and make good armatures.

I’ve also been working on a doll for a friend and some ideas for heart ornaments.

This is also a season of mourning from me.  My younger brother died about 2 years ago.  We don’t know his exact death date.  He had schizophrenia and was often  uncommunicative.  His last call on his cell phone records was October 25th.  He wasn’t found until November 11th.  I mourn his death, but  more so, I mourn his illness that isolated him so badly, although he was high functioning and succeeded in being independent.  I have had many dream visitations from him since his death and he seems much happier.

Halloween used to be a favorite time, and I loved the whole macabre celebration.  Now I feel removed from it.  It’s a more sacred time and I don’t like seeing the glorification of insanity, wounds and zombies.  I didn’t actually see my brother’s decayed body, but we had to do some clean up of his apartment and the smell, the disorder, the fluids, the remnants and the depth of that experience has not left me, and I can’t get into the celebratory mood.

I wondered how I would feel today.  I wondered if I should erase the date of his last call and forget about it, at least on the calendar, make the memory less date related.  But something makes me want to honor this day, his memory, the thoughts I have of him as a boy, the odd things he taught me about perception.

Then yesterday I woke up to the sound of the first full rain of the season, so soothing and somber.  Years ago, I wrote a story about my son finding a loaded gun in a friend’s house, based on a true event.  And yesterday, in that time between waking and sleeping, listening to the voice of the rain, my brother’s voice came to me and retold that story, and his story, and my story, in such a profound way that I leapt from the bed and wrote it down in my little red book I keep by the bed for writing emergencies.

So today, I get to work on this new story that combines sorrow and magic; about the wisdom that the passage of time and the acceptance of loss bring.  It’s turned out to be a good day, a blessed day — the bonds between me and the world beyond life feel soft and comforting.

I’m not going to wear a costume for Halloween.  Instead I’m going to tell stories — about scars, about friendships, about portals of the mind, and about visitations from spirits far wiser than I will ever be.

He lives on in my dreams


Bird Women

Bird Women

I don’t have a picture of the first Bird Woman I made.  It was made from a metallic gold and yellow print.  I had been struggling with the adjustments to a brace for my nerve damaged leg and drop-foot.  This was the second of 4 times I’ve tried different braces and haven’t been able to cope with the pain of wearing them.

I always go into these physical therapy programs with a great deal of hope and try very hard to work through the pain but what happens is I start to walk less.  It doesn’t make any sense to me to walk “better” but walk less.  Eventually I go back to my own galumphing stumbly limp.  I always go through low periods and depression when I have to make these adjustments.  I had to start using a cane in my 30s and stop riding my bicycle.  I had to start using a quad cane because a cane just falls with you and a quad cane actually helps stabilize you.  Then the walker for long distances.  Sigh.

But when I work through the adjustment, I get this kind of soaring feeling.  “Hey I can live with this!”  I had been making art dolls for about half a year and decided to make a doll that told a narrative about learning to limp.  I imagined myself caught between forms – I was not walking well anymore, but one day I’d be free and fly off this planet.  I was becoming a bird, but I couldn’t quite fly and I couldn’t quite sing yet.  I was caught in this absurd place with a beauty all its own.

I used embroidery stitches of red and blue on the outside of the body and used the Indian shisha stitch to attach stones to the nerve damaged parts of my body.  I knitted lacy wings that weren’t strong enough to fly and a closed beak not yet ready to sing.  It looked a lot like this one, made shortly after in all white.  I made these wings out of sheer fabric.


I was preparing my first solo art show in the lobby of  Memphis TheaterWorks.  I was afraid this doll was too personal to show, but I also needed it to fill up space – that piece was about 3’ by 4’.  Friends and family urged me to put in the show and I did.

At the opening, a woman kept coming back to it and looking at it so intently, I went over and told her the story of why I made it, what the embroidery and stones meant, why the wings were so frail and how I was trying to use mythological and whimsical interpretations of my struggle with a weakening body.

She listened patiently then looked me in the eye and said, “No, that’s not what this doll is about.”  She then proceeded to tell me that the doll was about her struggles as a single Black mother who had to finish high school and while raising a child, who tried to make a better life for her self and her son, who never quite fit in her family and community.  The stitches show how her battles in life left scars, but the gold in the fabric and the stones show how she had become strong and beautiful, even if people laughed at her.

My jaw dropped.  I am mostly a self taught artist and never really expected people to respond to my work.  It was only the great urging of friends that got me to show it publicly.  And this wonderful woman gave me the gift of a completely different interpretation of my work.  She validated my flight of fancy.

The doll was not for sale, but she convinced me it belonged to her.  “You can make another one for you,” she said.  She gave me a generous price for it, but had to pay in installments.  My impulse was to let her have it for a lower price, but she didn’t want it for a lower price, she wanted it to have a high value in her life, at least as high as the other things she had to make payments on.

Since then I’ve made a series of birds.  Each time I think, ‘I’m keeping this one for myself,’ and each time, they fly off to another home.   Some were made on commission so I knew they were going.  But when I make one for myself, they always want to be shown and they always make a connection with someone.  I love how the personal becomes universal.  I love that my birds who can’t quite walk right and don’t have strong wings still make their way in the world.