Friday, January 27, 2006

The Art of Story

Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it is an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there...~ Eudora Welty
It always amazes me to think that every house on every street is full of so many stories; so many triumphs and tragedies, and all we see are yards and driveways. ~ Glenn Close
Last week, we had a neighborhood meeting to determine whether our neighborhood, Greenwich Forest, should apply for historic designation. It is a charming collection of homes built in the 1930s, strangley enough, as a retirement community. The streets are named after English towns: Hampden, York, Lambeth. The architectural style is upscale Engligh cottage: a tad Tudor, a bit Cotswold, mixed with the straight lines of Georgian architecture. They remind me of storybook homes with cozy corners, quirky angles, and other charming details.

I used to carpool through this neighborhood when I was a child of 10, 11, 12; one mother preferred the visual delights Hampden Lane had to offer as opposed to the main roadway, Bradley Boulevard. Our unanimous favorite was the castle house. Twelve years later, as a young mother, I took the very same route to get to the neighborhood day care center, initially with Brian, our first child and then, day in and day out, for years, as our family grew. (Two of my daughters work there now, just two blocks from home.) I must have passed by my future house hundreds, maybe a thousand times. One spring day, in 1988, a For Sale sign went up on the white house with the steeply pitched green tile roof and the welcoming front porch. I knew I wanted that house but thought is was an impossible dream, my husband ever the economically sensible one. But he was in love with it too. By August, it was ours.

Fast forward seventeen years, and here we are, gathered with our neighbors in yet another gem of a home, all of us concerned over the growing trend of mansionization ~ tearing down old homes and replacing them with oversized million-dollar homes. One of the first Greenwich Forest homes (2 doors down from mine) was slated for demolition and it was time to act. The turnout was good. Everyone was interested in preserving the character of the neighborhood. There was a lot of legal talk, of procedures, options, pros & cons. And then it was one of the guest speakers, Laura Trieschmann's, turn to speak. Laura is an architect and one of the directors of ETH Traceries, a women-owned research and consulting firm specializing in architectural history and historic preservation. Laura said something that went straight to my soul, artist-speak, rather than legal-speak. She said, "The homes in a neighborhood tell a story. When you tear them down, the story can no longer be told."

Story~ art is all about story. Your story, a culture's story, the story of a feeling, an incident, a moment. When we make art, we not only create stories, we preserve them.

It dawned on me a few years ago that my art was narrative, that each Fragment, each collage, each quilt told a story. I had always thought that my storytelling would have to wait until the kids were grown and gone and the house was quiet enough for me to finally hear the voices in my head. But stories do not have to be written or told. Stories can be visual, told by objects, images, color.
It is the storytelling properties of objects that I find the most interesting. It is their history and how time has marked them that holds the greatest potential. ~ Mark Daughhetee
We all have stories to tell. We live inside of a story, creating chapter after chapter with every layer of paint, every opening of a window, or step through the front door. I have just told you a story. Now go tell one of your own.
We need to be each others storytellers. ~ Mary Oliver

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My Bed

Yesterday, I realized that my bed is where I
~make love
~make babies
~make art

My bed is not all that comfortable for sleeping. It is 16 years old and we're due for a new one. Sleeping is really its secondary use as far as I'm concerned. It is where I make art. My studio is in my bedroom (or is my bedroom now in my studio?)

I started working here years ago when I had young children. My "free" time came after dinner when it was time to get the kids ready for bed ~ monitor their bath, keep them on track, stand guard outside their bedrooms when it was lights-out. I had tried other spaces and places in the house, but I got the most work done when I worked where I spent the most time. They have grown, and my art supplies and materials have grown as well. When they finish growing and move out, I will move into one of the empty bedrooms. But in the meantime ~

I like my little space. To the right of the bed, you can see the corner of my sewing table, my glue bottles lined up on the windowsill. What you don't see is the huge pile of fabric that grows ever larger, threatening to take over the entire room.

The bed is fairly empty right now, as I had to stop and take this picture while this whole thought was fresh in my mind. Each day, after we get up, I make the bed. I lay the current projects out in the middle of the bed and see where my attention lands. My back is to the clutter and disarray of my supplies and materials, giving my imagination the space it needs to be creative.

My bed has unofficial "stations". The left side is the thinking side. I keep my journal there to jot down thought, notes, ideas. It's where I stack things that need my attention later, when I actually get in the bed. The right side, near the pillows, is the actual work area. It's near the light and the sewing machine. The middle of the bed is where the unfinished and finished work goes - accomplishments to be proud of and ideas still forming.

I like my little system. I often wonder if I will be able to be as productive when I get a "real" studio. I do know that I will have a queen-size table in the middle of the room. I want to keep the same workflow going. I wonder too, if my work will be as small and intimate once I am out of the bedroom?

So what's the point, you may be asking. I just wanted to share this bedtime story with you, just in case you are having trouble finding a space to do your art. I could wrap it up here with this silly pun: Home is where one arts from, but I'll offer these as well~
My best "studio" is my state of mind at the time of creating. I have done some really good work under the worst circumstances and some pretty awful stuff in a well organized, pristine studio. (Shirley Erskine)
The strategy of keeping the studio close, like an outbuilding five paces from the house, or in the loft next door, or with the studio on one end and the bed on the other – makes art always available. (Sara Genn)
An artist's studio should be a small space because small rooms discipline the mind and large ones distract it. (Leonardo da Vinci)

Thursday, January 05, 2006


The most an artist can do is say, let me show you what I have seen, what I have loved and perhaps you will see it and love it too. ~ Annie Bevan
I have driven by this gate many, many times, yet I have never noticed it before. But there it was, last week, just where it has always been, patiently waiting for me to drive by and notice it. When I am out and about in the car I am usually in left-brain mode - do I have enough time? will I meet my deadlines? Should I stop at the grocery store? But last week was different, It was Christmas break and I was enjoying a week without schedules and committments. My mind was free to wander and apparantly free to notice.

As artists, it is our job to notice. I'm usually pretty good at it. I noticed birdsong this afternoon as I took down the Christmas decorations - the bird was as happy as I was with our unusually warm weather. I noticed the way the fog rendered a crystalline appearance to the dawn this morning, just before the sun began to break the horizon. So why didn't I ever notice this gate? This is the gate I would like to have in my yard. You know - things you would do or buy if you had "discretionary income". I love that term, discretionary ~ "Available for use as needed or desired." I use it a lot because I seem to live in the land of discretionary income.

But now that I think of it, I notice that nothing makes me happier than making art. There is nothing discretionary income can buy that compares with the thrill of making something ~ that spinning of straw into gold. Noticing the way two or three fabrics can create a visual feast for the eyes actaully makes my heart leap, my breath quicken.

I was talking to my friend, nina today about how, as artists, we still retain our sense of wonder. The slightest wondrous thing can make us stop, mouth agape, eyes wide open. We are two year olds all over again, noticing everything as if it were new, because it is! Whatever it is, it has never been seen that way before, through our eyes, on that day. That's what being an artist is all about ~ noticing the familiar with our eyes and heart and then recreating it with our hands.

So here's the plan....starting today, take note of what you notice. Keep a notebook handy and note them down. Do this for three weeks. I guarantee that the world will unfold right before your eyes.
The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way. ~ John Ruskin
It has to do with being alive, with seeing the beauty of something in this very moment and not postponing it. ~ Burghild Nina Holzer