Friday, May 30, 2008

Rochester's Best Public Art Installation

About a mile from my studio is an amazing place where the owners of these buildings have given graffiti artists permission to paint the nights away (or at least that's when I imagine these underground artists hit the streets). If you come to Rochester and want to see it, drive down South Goodman Street to the Village Gate complex and drive way to the back of it, park and walk down toward the railroad tracks. AMAZING.

I never even knew about this place until last week and it's so amazingly close to me that it's practically in my backyard. Today I decided to take my camera with me and check it out. I expected to see one building at most...never did I imagine that I would find building after building covered with painted marks! You'll notice the sign in the picture above that warns people not to paint beyond the arrow -- and of course the whole rest of the building has graffiti painted on it. Not a school of artists that takes such warnings too seriously, I suspect.

You can see all types of calligraphic marks on these walls, including the typical four letter and in-your-face words --as well as layer upon layer of names, initials and undecipherable (by me) calligraphic language marks. It's easy to tell that there are serious professionals...and amateurs... in the graffiti biz.

What I enjoy most about these surfaces -- and definitely will return there again to photograph -- is how interestingly the various artists' marks intersect and compliment each other, how gestural and spontaneous most of the writing is. Some of the paintings seem planned but most seem impulsively scrawled. There's such enthusiasm and excitement in the excessiveness of it all, a totally random but exuberant sprawl. Even the pavement below has started to become a canvas for more.

After walking around shooting a host of reference photos, my friend and I made our way to a sushi lunch and then toured an exhibit of American Impressionist paintings from the Phillips collection at the Memorial Art Gallery. Must say that the day provided a pretty diverse array of visual stimulation and some ideas for my sketchbook based on the types of letter forms I saw.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Fine Balance

To spend almost a year working towards a very specific deadline translates into making choices about what gets done, when and in what order. The most pressing jobs go to the top of the to-do lists, the others slide further and further down.

Once my opening night wrapped up, all the energy, drive and determination that I had focused on the language pieces for the past twelve months didn't just dissipate. I had fantasized rewarding myself by drifting along for a while in a glow of dreamy relaxation, but realized very quickly once I could actually do it that it didn't appeal to me at all. I'm definitely happiest being a do-er -- get a lot of satisfaction from setting goals and accomplishing them. That led me to ask myself -- what DO you want to do right now? The answer made me laugh. What my heart desired most was -- to clean my refrigerator.

What could be more beautiful and satisfying than a clean, orderly refrigerator filled with healthy, fresh foods?? Couldn't be more opposite than making art, yet I felt a wonderful -- actually soothing and calming -- balance. The simplicity of the work and savoring the completion of it flicked on a light switch -- I wanted to feather my nest! Since I chose this option over other possibilities --- attending a play, hiking a local trail or browsing a bookstore for some interesting new reading -- I realized that what I desire most right now is pleasant, calming order in my home.

Rather than try to do everything all at once, I decided to make a Master List. That got every possible idea out of my head and down on paper. Writing the ideas all down and then narrowing those to specific choices helped me be realistic about what I could get done and thereby be able to feel great about accomplishing. List-making and goal-prioritizing are favorite tools of mine -- that way I can break down large tasks into small steps and get to feel good about completing each one rather than making it an all-or-nothing scenario.

So here was the weekend's short list:

1. Wash windows.
2. Weed the perennial garden.
3. Trim bushes outside my office windows.
4. Thin some perennials and transplant.
5. Buy annuals and start planting.
6. Start a little herb garden.

We've had gorgeous weather this entire spring, most of which I've gazed longingly at from indoors as I've worked in overdrive at my dye studio or sewing room, so I knew I had to spend at least part of each day this holiday weekend outside and working in the earth, another wonderful way of balancing energy.

Our local garden center couldn't have been more ready for me. They display annuals and perennials so beautifully that I can't imagine anyone walking in there would be able to resist planting some little spot of flowers somewhere, even if just a single pot.
Here's the beginnings of my first wagon load of annuals. I've experimented over the years with a host of exotic annuals and perennials, but the basics have proven the most successful on our country property. They also give me more time for making art, which is way more important to me than high-maintenance gardens. Life is all about choices, eh? Now that I've completed weeding, the actual planting can take place over this whole week. I'm not rushing just to "get it done", I'm savoring the time outside.

This whole perennial bed was covered with grass and weeds --sorry I didn't take the before picture so you could appreciate just how much work it took to get to this state. There's a whole area that curves around to the right that I weeded as well. Not much in bloom yet except the bleeding heart and azalea, which you can't see here. The iris are just about ready to pop open, though.

Today the sunshine seems to have disappeared; it's cloudy and much cooler. I'll spend the next few days planting and Bob will mulch everything after I'm done. That means I can return soon to the Master List and decide what comes next. Art making will return again soon to claim my total absorption, but for these next few days, I'll continue to enjoy a few Better Homes & Gardens moments.

I have a student coming this weekend for two days of private studio time and will start preparing for that on Thursday and Friday. Today and tomorrow I'll be up to my elbows in dirt, surrounded by birds nesting, leaves rustling and insects humming as everything, including me, gets caught up in the launch of a new growing season.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Opening Night Scrapbook

Who says art openings are stuffy? We had a wonderful time last night. About 40 people joined us and shared in this exciting milestone with me. Here's our friend Megan Cabral and her mother Ferris, who we met for the first time, chatting with fellow artist Paloma and Paolo, Megan's husband.

Many friends came. Here are fellow artists Pat Pauly, Nancy Murty and her husband Paul who got the supreme honor of getting their photograph taken with The Artist.
Here are fellow friends and members from our RAFA group, Rochester Area Fiber Artists. From left to right are Jeanne Simpson, Pat Berardi, Barb Seils and Marcia DeCamp.
There's my incredible husband in the dark blue shirt serving as bartender. He certainly should win an award for all the work he did to help make this exhibit so successful.
Janet Berlo, left, is the author of numerous books, a professor of art history at U of R and a truly special and talented friend. She's chatting with Randall Cook, a textile artist in Rochester who I met for the first time last night. On the right is Heather Layton, who teaches art at the university and is the director of the gallery. She arranged for me to exhibit there after Janet recommended my work to her.
This Pages piece got LOTS of attention-- a university committee will be meeting within the next two weeks to decide whether to purchase it for their collection and exhibit it in the Gleason Library! I feel honored to be considered and am excited at the prospect of my work being part of a private university collection.
Joy Duskin, another artist friend, stopped by and so did Anais Salibian, an amazing writer; both signed my guest book. I didn't have time to read the comments last night so will look forward to reading them all when the exhibit ends.
The credit for all these terrific photographs goes to my stepdaughter Jackie, above, with her husband Jim.

Here's my dear husband and me together at the end, a bit punchy and tired but definitely delighted at how much fun it is to host an opening! The lovely flowers on the left were a gift from Janet and her husband Bradley.

Many thanks to everyone who came -- it was everything I could have hoped for from beginning to end -- and to many friends who couldn't be there but who sent best wishes and congratulations via e-mail. It is magnificent to have the support of friends, family and fellow artists.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Curtain Going UP!

It's here, the day I've been working towards for nearly a year. Tonight is the opening reception and we'll provide food and wine for it -- party time! After Bob and I installed the work yesterday, which took a surprisingly long time, I stayed on to take some photographs and enjoy the space's transformation into a vibrant collage of fiber art. A lot of friendly people passed through and chatted with us while we were working and we invited them to come join us tonight for the opening.

It's dawning on me that tonight I"ll be surrounded by people who really love art -- no one will come see my work there by accident. They will be interested in the concepts and ideas that I'm exploring. That kind of audience will appreciate the way I've developed my ideas and recognize the amount of work that has gone into it -- and maybe will even offer resources and suggestions for further exploration! I confess that when I shut the door to the gallery after we finished yesterday, I already was envisioning new compositional ideas to explore next, so it doesn't appear that I am going to be leaving this subject any time soon. At least another year or two ahead of letter forms, but the ideas are evolving and so will the work that I create.

I love love LOVE the acrylic holders for the Pages pieces, and will try to get a closeup of those for you before everyone arrives tonight and the celebrating gets underway. The fabricator -- his name is Gary but he calls himself Plastic Man -did an amazing and beautiful job on each piece. I am so appreciative of how many talented people I am meeting. The sign people at Event Graphics were wonderful too -- isn't that a great sign on the window??

I realized yesterday how important it is to me that this body of works reflects, however subtly, how ideas evolve. The working process from one piece plants the seeds for the next one-- and that's where my writer self really steps in. There is a story in the making of a body of work, not necessarily obvious but an undercurrent that is much like a hunt for buried treasure. Clues, secret maps and journeying to new lands all blend together in the search. It feels sometimes like falling under a spell voluntarily and watching magic unfold from the inside out.

I'll share the photos from tonight's opening with you tomorrow. We're going to get there a bit early and put some different bulbs in a few of the spotlights to improve the lighting. I have no idea how many people are coming tonight --a few loyal (bless em) friends or a crowd, could go either way -- but we'll have a nice spread and I'm celebrating with or without a lot of people. It's wonderful to set a goal and make it to the finish line with good, cohesive work and still have as much, if not even more enthusiasm to continue building this body of work.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What Next-ing

I have two more sleeves to sew onto two more pieces, labels to print out, and then I'll be ready to hang all the work tomorrow. The last two pieces are completely finished. Tonight the moon will be full -- and when the moon is waxing my energy grows with it to the point of hyperactivity. Then when it starts to wane I get much calmer and quieter, so couldn't have picked a better time to be gearing up and finishing all the last minute details for hanging tomorrow than having the moon in my corner revving up my engine!

Believe it or not, despite being dog-tired, I'm already starting to get excited about what I want to do next. Most of what is luring my imagination presently are images that relate to slowing down a bit and NOT focusing on goals and deadlines. I've been fantasizing about some long hikes along some of the area trails I've never visited...building a pile of light reading and creating an oasis right next to the lake to while away some summer afternoons...sketching quietly for no purpose at all other than to enjoy it. Studio days to just play and explore materials in new ways.
I'd like to investigate the area with an eye to discovering other artists here that I may not know and increase my appreciation for the creativity and talent in this region.

However, truth be told-- my mind's working as well on setting new currents in motion for the future and "what comes next" as an artist. I'll journal and do some writing as well -- my way of sorting and processing all the ideas that have been collecting inside me.

A four week break may be just the perfect amount of time to relax, enjoy this accomplishment and sort through all the possibilities for my next focus.

Down-time -- ah the lovely sound of those two words -- is the carrot that's currently dangling in front of me as I steadfastly finish all the odds and ends today that remain. I hope that when I'm done hanging the work tomorrow, I can step back, look at this body of work with appreciative eyes and keep my internal editor at bay for a while. Everyone needs a good inner editor to point out what needs improving, but also a great inner cheerleader as well -- and I hope mine brings out the really big pompoms for Wednesday night!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Art Making

As the whirlwind time of generating new work for this upcoming exhibit is winding down, my thoughts are turning in a more reflective direction. Books seem to pop off my shelves right into my hands at exactly the right point in time and these past few days have been no exception. Just as I was contemplating why the works I am creating are not geared to selling or branding or commercial success, I revisited Art is a Spiritual Path by Pat Allen. I had read the book several years ago, found it worthwhile and informative. But it seems that Pat's ideas and mine are connecting again.

When I opened the book a day or two ago in the midst of feverish, last minute completions for the Notations exhibit, I landed on several pages near the end that I had bracketed and underlined. Here's what my eye landed on -- "With the marketing of products as our culture's highest value, even the self comes to be seen as a commodity to be 'branded' and sold. What is art in such a world?"

An important question. I could not have felt free to flesh out this body of work had my focus been on marketing and selling it. The heartfelt engagement that I have experienced has been so far removed from the external world that it has felt like being in a separate dimension, moving at a much slower speed in one way and whirling faster in another. Now that I'm almost finished with the last piece for this exhibit, I seem to be shaking off the spell I've been under, waking up and asking myself, "What does this experience mean to me?". On one level, it actualizes a goal that I set several years ago to produce a cohesive body of work and have a solo exhibition. I felt deeply that I needed to draw myself in and discipline myself to stay with a body of work to develop it rather than abandon it before it had a chance to grow.

On another level, creating this work has been about something much deeper. Allen says that new cultural forms must allow for inquiry, heartfelt engagement and celebration. Those words seem to describe my past year's work, particularly "heartfelt engagement." Engaging with my work in this way is a means of engaging with the Creative Source. If creativity is our natural birthright and art is a spiritual path, then those of us who choose to create may very well be participating in an evolutionary process.

Perhaps we are part of a bigger picture, one in which multitudes of individuals are moving towards a more spiritually informed way of looking at the world and developing a new vision for our culture, one of generosity and compassion. But I do understand that it's personal change that spurs cultural change. So my work of this past year has been to engage with my way of being in the world -- to hone my appreciation for the gifts of each day, to celebrate the creativity inside of me seeking expression, to engage in authentic, heartfelt work, and to be more truthful to who I am as a woman and an artist. I feel as though I am a "witness" to my own growth and evolution and seeing myself through this perspective is an amazing gift.

We all have the ability to live passionately and connect fully with the present. When we do this, we feel vibrantly alive and engaged. This is the heart of any practice, whether it's art or parenting or gardening -- to open our hearts and live with passionate attention and appreciation for what we have, to celebrate something, to touch someone's life with compassion each day.

So my tiny little exhibition in my tiny little corner of the world has huge tidal waves of impact for me and the artistic process itself that have nothing to do with commercial success. The actual event will come and go in a sea of other such exhibitions, all here and gone and quickly forgotten, so in the eyes of the world it is just the tiniest drop of water in a huge ocean. I have not been contacted by a reviewer from Art in America, nor will I be appearing on next season's Art 21! Yet I contend that my exhibit, while not generating a huge tidal wave in the visible world, is throwing out wonderful currents of energy in the invisible. These currents that emanate from each authentic, creative act cannot help but become a network of roots through which wonderful currents of positive energy flow and connect.

The power of each small manifestion as an artist is not just what takes place on the outside, although I think it is important to flesh out ideas into form. The power of the experience is that the process becomes part of the artist. In steadfastly engaging with the work through adversity, fatigue and a variety of diversions, the artist -- and the work -- grows. It fills me with awe to recognize how very deep it is possible to go into a subject and how a small avenue of exploration can fuel a lifetime of work and study.

I deeply appreciate that Creative Source within me for showing me my very own Technicolor version of "It's a Wonderful Life." I have loving friends and family around me, a great curiosity and zeal for living and continuous surprises from the amazing treasures that I keep uncovering in this most fascinating era of human civilization. Each day brings new delight in "exploring the surface."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bright Marquis Lights -- but backstage...

Here's what the postcard looks like, front side.... ...and back! Consider yourself officially invited to the opening. I love the layout on the back of the card.

But here, friends, is what's going on BEHIND the stage doors! I finished the fourth Pages piece yesterday, washed it out and now have to iron every row of pages so that they all lay flat. Not so glamorous!

Every piece is piled on the bed in the guest room awaiting hanging mechanisms or sleeves or some sort of last minute pressing or rechecking for stray threads, etc. We're getting the acrylic holders fabricated and they absolutely have to work; I couldn't order them until I knew the finished sizes for all four Pages pieces and this new one was only laid out this past week. And hear this, I VOW to start putting on the hanging sleeves every time I finish a new piece and not wait!
I know that I'll be ready when next Tuesday arrives, but am definitely going to be a bit dazed by then. There is the one last Parables piece to resolve and complete, so I'm heading up to my studio today to work on it.

While part of me is eager to get the work hung and move on to some well-deserved down time, another part of me loves the momentum that built around this exhibit deadline. There are many other pieces and ideas that want me to work on them and while I know I need a bit of time to rest and relax, I'm not sure how long it will be before I'm up to my elbows again in fleshing out the many ideas that time and circumstances didn't permit me to create this past year. Perhaps that's the lure of creating, that no matter how pleased we are with what we make, the other ideas and images keep crowding forward to be manifested as well.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Flight Path

The phrase, "don't get out much", must certainly apply to me. I spend most of my days working steadily in the quiet of my sewing or dye studios, connected more to my inner world than in touch with the pulse of the larger, bustling world outside my doors. I miss more art exhibitions than I attend, although I try to attend some. Yesterday was an exception. I mailed 120 postcards out of 500 to friends and family and then drove on to distribute the rest to galleries and arts-oriented locations around the city of Rochester. What followed over the course of the day was a myriad of visual stimulation that had me both laughing and wondering at this mysterious activity we call "art making" in human culture.

Since accepting the invitation last summer to exhibit a body of my work in a university gallery, I have felt like a migrating bird that travels instinctively along a flight path, propelled by an inner compass. I have come to see the opportunity as a challenge to focus my energy on a very specific target within a non-negotiable time frame -- that of producing a cohesive, unified body of work and hanging it up, for better or for worse, by May 20th, 2008. The milestone for me has been to produce work around a central theme -- and in the powerful currents of energy that engaging in this process has created, I have come to appreciate that what fuels me as an artist, gives me purpose and direction, is the stimulation and challenge of translating ideas into images, using materials to express ideas without depending on words.
Given that current immersion in my own ideas and work, emerging from my own little pond yesterday for a bit and circling and touching down quickly over the space of a few hours into a variety of other ponds made for some interesting insights and observations.

Zebra Car, Betsy Phillips.

On one of my first stops, Image City, I talked a while with Betsy Phillips, one of the owners of this lively co-op gallery. She's a great person and talented photographer who actively shows and sells her work -- at the gallery and at outdoor art shows. Her work looks at ordinary objects with fresh eyes.
Bareroot, 2007, Alison Saar.

At the Rochester Contemporary Art Center, I encountered a somewhat more introspective exhibition by California sculptor and print maker Alison Saar, whose work explores identity, fertility and aging and brought to my mind the imagery in Frida Kahlo's paintings.

The Harvest, 74" x 63", Lynne Feldman.

At the city's Arts & Cultural Center, I viewed Lynne Feldman's current solo exhibition of textile tapestries (her term for these works), composed with commercial fabrics that she collages onto canvas and over-paints with acrylics. Her subject matter ranges from Judaic celebrations to portraits and landscapes and are filled with an air of festivity, connectedness and community.

Struck by the diversity of styles, processes, materials and subject matter, I read resumes and collected postcards and absorbed the atmosphere of each venue, some quite somber and minimal in tone and others bursting to the seams with numerous works by a variety of artists. It's the end of the school year so several galleries featured exhibitions of student works from elementary and high school art classes, colorful and diverse and wonderfully spontaneous.

Of course the day gave me a lot of fodder for thinking about why we create and how we choose our particular large or small "ponds" as artists. Maybe there are as many different reasons as there are artists. Perhaps I approach art-making with more focus on process than outcomes because I am freer at this stage in my life to do things just because I want to do them and not because I need them to produce certain results. My "career" has been a brief one in comparison to artists who have spent 35-45 years producing bodies of work and yet my work would not be taking the directions it is if I had not been a writer before I discovered visual art. So while I may or may not have three or four decades still ahead to continue to develop and refine my processes and master my medium, I do have today...and what I make of this one day may be as significant as a half-century career. You may already have discovered this timelessness idea, but I'm just starting to get it. It's fascinating to think the real culmination of a lifetime might be in a single, seemingly small and insignificant encounter or action -- a random moment that may be the most fulfilling, important, defining one of an entire lifetime.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Rollin' Along

Even though this latest Parables piece is still in the early stages -- so don't be looking at it as a completed composition yet! --varying the scale and shades of the red letter forms is working well and I'm excited about returning to work on this again tomorrow. A bit more silk screening to emphasize movement, more intentional selection and placement of the letter forms will flesh this one out. I'm feeling very optimistic about it. You'll see it again soon, hopefully ready to sandwich and stitch!

I spent today finishing the rest of the rows for this Pages piece. Time for a bit of a break from this now that it's pasted and ready to start stitching the joins. I ended up going for the 118" length so made eight rows and then laid all the components out together on the carpet to get a feel for the look of it. There's not a floor space in my house that's open enough to lay this down, so I angled it in the small third upstairs bedroom that I use for a library and design wall. Now I have to trust that my component idea will indeed work and that all the little pages will line up obediently when I go to stitch them all together. I did get time to do the horizontal stitching on one row -- so bright and early tomorrow before I head out for my studio I'll try and stitch a second component, join the two together and hope that all the little pages line up!
Of course one thing always has to go a bit awry when there's a deadline looming. I had a bit of a postcard snafu, had to dump the first shipment -- the image, when the cards arrived, had a glow-in-the-dark greenish tinge which was no one's fault, just a file that didn't upload properly, so we couldn't blame the printer. Happily, we handled the small setback very calmly, fiddled with the image until it did upload properly and reordered new postcards immediately. The second batch should be here tomorrow. There's still plenty of time to distribute and mail these out this week. If for any reason this shipment arrives and the postcard image is still not true to the work, I'm mailing them out anyway or nobody will even KNOW there's an exhibit opening!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Five Rows Down, Two to Go!

You can't see row five on this piece because my design wall isn't large enough to pin it on, but trust me, those little page pieces are glued on and waiting for stitching! Just two more rows and then I'll debate whether to stop or add one more (either 103" or 118" approximate length). I rather like the fabric pooling on the floor but will reserve an opinion until I get all the pieces pinned together and ready to stitch, then I can hang the full piece and decide. Construction is becoming easier with each new work -- I seem to be improvising little changes that help speed up the process considerably. Working in small units instead of making one huge layout will help the stitching go faster, so I'm not wrestling some stiff and awkward pile of plastic under the machine arm. I'm hoping I will be able to complete this in two more days.

Having darker centers with white surrounding them makes this look quite different than the other Pages pieces. It feels more abstract than the previous ones and I'm really liking it on the design wall. However, it does remind me that the next deliberation will be how they all will relate to one another for hanging. At this point, though, my focus is strictly on producing and completing them. Then if one seems out of place with the others, I will have enough others to choose from. At the rate everything is coming together, I may very well finish three new pieces.

Now that my new collection of reds has been dyed and processed, I'll take them to my studio tomorrow, design some letter patterns and start cutting them out for the new Parables piece. That is looking quite promising too -- I'm really enjoying this kind of last minute push towards the finish line. The work feels solid and I am managing to stay incredibly focused. I have to force myself to stop and go to sleep at night and I hop out of bed early each morning. I feel like all the work I've done for all these years is leading me to this culmination of time, work, thought, energy -- and that what appears in the actual exhibition will be far less significant than the growth and changes creating it has wrought inside me.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Dye Studio Tulips Blooming!

In the midst of black and white and gray scale, look at this lovely garden of blossoming reds I started dyeing yesterday to expand my letter forms palette! I'll try a few other techniques today -- these were wet in soda ash, scrunched and then I painted on three bright and dark reds directly with foam brushes.

Days keep flying faster and faster as the May 20th hanging deadline for my exhibition nears, but my enthusiasm seems to stay constant for making two more new pieces before then. New ideas and variations present themselves daily that keep my body in perpetual motion at my studio. The more I immerse myself in fleshing out these ideas, the more intoxicating the possibilities seem to become for continuing experimentation -- including installations and sculptural forms! However, the very real constraints of limited time before "Notations" hangs has cut short my R&D experiments with deconstructing letter forms; Pages 4 is now underway, but returning to my previous methods.

I am trying something new on this piece though. I want to separate each page into the tiny pages but keep the original compositions intact. I am creating the centers individually and will cut and paste them one at a time to the water soluble fabric. I composed them individually after creating a ground fabric with deconstructed screen printing and basically came up with two design options. The first piece is a silk screened bit of graffiti that I photographed in Montreal. It took me a while to realize that the vertical shapes are actually letters that spell a word, I just loved the shape and movement of it! The second variation is a more familiar one for the Pages series, a screen made from an excerpt of found text from a late 1800's woman's diary.

Each one of these blocks, once cut apart, will be surrounded by light fabric pages with light grey text printed on white (so the variation on this piece is to create a unified darker page set on a lighter ground). Today I'll decide whether to use one of the above sets or perhaps combine them in some way. I'll cut and paste up a sample block of each at my studio this morning while I wash out the red fabrics and then decide. My goal is to be ready to cut and paste the blocks on the water soluble fabric by tomorrow.
One of the many lessons I'm learning from this current body of work is to observe how ideas evolve. I have tended, in the past, in trying to move my work forward, to abandon ideas and themes before I invested time and energy in fleshing them out. Dorothy Caldwell said an amazing thing to me about creating a series when I showed her the first Pages piece last June in her class -- make the commitment to stay with a concept and develop a body of work. Make small changes with each new piece in a series rather than huge ones. The evolution of the ideas and theme become a step-by-step process. The connections between the works will become apparent.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Personal Note: Remembering and Honoring

On the day my mom died last August in New Mexico (and right before, sadly, my sister and brother were both killed that evening), we met with the undertaker to make the arrangements for my mother's cremation and memorial service. It was then my sister announced she was keeping my mother's ashes -- and exhuming my father's, buried 30 years earlier in Utica, NY! She wanted to put them in an urn together and keep them with her. Then, in the wake of the tragedy that followed, both sets of ashes came to me. I did not want to keep my parents' remains in an urn; that seemed as unnatural as being buried in a sealed casket. But I also didn't want to just scatter them, even in a beautiful place.

My mother and father both loved the colors of autumn. After talking it over with Bob, we decided to plant a sugar maple right where I could see it and watch it grow from all the windows at the back of our house. It was near the end of October when we started.My dear, wonderful husband did all the work, from digging up the old stump in the chosen spot to planting the new tree. I scattered my parents' ashes around the base and talked to them and cried and said a lot of prayers. I knew it was only ashes, but they felt like an important connection to the people I had so loved.It felt wonderfully reassuring to see the little tree there and know that my parents' ashes would mingle with the soil at its roots. Before the cold settled in for good, I planted 100 crocus all around the base. In my mind, where metaphors and analogies roam free and graze like herds of wild horses, I could envision them as living symbols of rebirth when the winter ends and spring returns again.

And so it did! All my little crocus popped through the soil this spring.
The purple ones are my favorites and I'll plant more of these come fall. Of course, the other question in our minds when we planted the tree last year was whether it would survive the winter. I sent a lot of loving thoughts to it.

And look at these wonderful buds. The little tree is alive and well and growing! This feels so good and true as a way to honor the love I feel for my parents. I hope to find a way to do this for my sister and brother as well.