I’m feeling so alive and refreshed and ready to begin a few phase of exciting work. Part of this is thanks to our studio change. Part of this is due to Seattle’s sunshine and the great burst of energy that comes along with the spring sun finally arriving to inspire us all, pulling us out from our winter slump. And part of this is thanks to a steady stream of inspiring objects around me and the gifted souls who take the time and care to make such exquisite, spirited works of art.
After a great day in the sun with my dear friend Rose Powers, our conversation led to her telling me about a quilt she had begun over 36 years ago when she was 25 years old and caring for her baby Zak.
A quick aside: Zak has since grown to become a brilliant photographer and the trusted wingman of legend Elliott Erwitt. Such a talented and artistic mother could only raise a son with equal creative potential!
As we chatted and walked home, Rose told me of the quilt she labored over for months – a quilt that was designed to not only be a beautiful addition to her home, but also a document of her life up until that point with embedded tales of love, struggle, heartbreak, joy, and the fabrics, decorations, patterns, objects and designs that were part of the experience. I, of course, had to see it…and asked to do just that!
I met Rosie over a cutting table at the Seattle Opera, as we both stitched away on costumes for their production of Don Giovanni in November of 2006. The work was good, and the setting was ideal for becoming fast friends. Our workday chatting and laughing turned into nighttime dancing at our favorite honkytonk or disco. And during my first visit to her home, a glance at her vast book collection brought fourth a copy of Native Funk and Flash…a book I had long forgotten about up until that point. I hadn’t seen it since high school – but of course remembered it well – and was thrilled to see a copy again and also hear Rosie say “I love this book….I know some of the people who are in it.” Agh! Amazing. Moments like these remind me that I moved to this coast for a reason. This sort of thing doesnt really happen in Wisconsin.
May years of good karma pour onto the free-thinking librarian of Wausau West High School who purchased a copy for their stacks in 1974. I enjoyed it weekly from 1995 until I graduated in 1999 and can only hope it still has a home on their shelves.
Since reconnecting with the book, I have regained access to a powerful source of inspiration and important American history. Hell, I’ve even corresponded with Scrumbly thanks to that moment!
36 years ago was 1974 – the same year the book was published, the same year the librarian in Wisconsin purchased a copy for the school, and the same year Rosie was stitching away at this quilt to archive the turns of her life. It all lines up quite nicely, no?
It was also in 1974 that a less-than-excellent boyfriend told Rosie the quilt wasn’t worth much; a big ole waste of time. Most anyone emotionally and artistically invested in something knows the power of such harsh criticisms and unkind words. So the quilt got boxed up and has stayed that way since. Unfinished. Untouched. But thankfully, Rosie still has it and we capped off our sunny Saturday by taking it out and having a look at it.
I could only smile when seeing it, and it felt so good to know that its still here and in such great condition. We laid it out on her livingroom rug and she walked me through its many parts and layers of meaning.
Years in art school surrounded by academics and mentors who think a lot about textiles offered me a number of potent lessons, but one of the biggest is this: Domestic textiles are one of the most powerful documents of the lived experience we have. They document each and every move our culture makes. They live with us, grow with us, change with us, and offer their functionality and beauty right along side the complex lives we lead. In the end, these materials can’t help but accumulate the spirit and nuance of their owners amazing lives.
I was reminded of this in such a big way when seeing this quilt. Most impressive of all was hearing Rosie tell the stories and talk about the role the quilt played in her life at that point. “I always felt so safe and happy when I was working on this and I’ll never forget that. Everything else around me could be a mess but this quilt was like therapy…my way to make something that I felt really good about.”
Today Rosie is an absolute master seamstress, making exquisite works for area theatres by day and for friends and family in extra hours that remain. This level of refined craft is something I have always been in awe of and hope to bring to the work I do in my own studio. Its the type of work that takes time. Its the type of work that takes care. Its the type of work that takes love and patience and the will to invest oneself in a project that may not have heaps of technological power or pragmatic fervor, but instead gives back through its beauty, longevity and untouchable artistic life.
We ended our afternoon by playing with new fabric scraps on the unfinished quilt. I’m hoping this re-visit inspires Rosie to finish the work she started, and bring such an exciting piece to a more finished place so it can be displayed and viewed and enjoyed. The work we do as artists deserves just that, at the very least.
Here’s a handbook of stitches that were Rosie’s resource on this quilt. In the midst of an ever-changing lifestyle without a whole lot of possessions, this little book was carried with her all along and brought to the table all these wonderful hand-sewn decorations.
Tucked inside the small book was this folded magazine tear – another bit of inspiration that got the ball rolling.
Rosie and I dancing at one of our favorite spots, Seattle’s Little Red Hen.