August 27, 2004

Stitching Together the Events of September 11th

Filed under: Art and About Textiles — admin @ 9:32 pm

A friend sent me the web link to a picture of a quilt entitled “Ground Zero,” conceived of and created by a woman shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The quilters name is Lois Jarvis of Madison, Wisconsin. Her memorial to those who died is so powerful that no matter how often I look at the image of the quilt, I feel like someone just punched me in the chest and the tears start pooling in my eyes. If you’re sitting near a computer, go see for yourself right now,

This is one of the cases where a thousand words can’t do the picture justice, but I’ll try. Jarvis used a Lone Star pattern comprised of over 700 diamonds to look like an explosion blasting out from an epicenter. On each diamond, she printed the face of someone who died on September 11, using photos she downloaded from CNN shortly after the tragedy. Bordering the blast are panels of gray to represent the smoke, the dust and the sorrow. It sounds too simplistic when I describe it here. Please go look at it for yourself.

In her artist’s statement, Jarvis writes, “I am not as eloquent with words as some people are. And why I needed to make this quilt I could not say. I do not personally know anyone who perished that day. I don’t plan to sell this quilt. So why I made it is a mystery to me. All I can say is that I felt I should do it because I knew I could do it.”

Jarvis’ written statement strikes me almost as profoundly as her quilted one.

Ms. Jarvis, it is no mystery to me why you made this quilt. You do not need words when you have been granted the language of imagery.
I am fortunate to have a job where I get to hang out with visual artists, and one apology regularly comes up in conversation when I try to talk to them: “Sorry, I’m not very good with words.”

Since I am a word-based life form, I always have to chuckle to myself when I hear this and contemplate replying, “Sorry, I’m not very good with images.” When I see what an artist such as Jarvis can create without words, I feel hopelessly inadequate. I can ramble on and on and never capture the emotional pit this country was shoved into on September 11. With even the fastest glance at “Ground Zero,” I can instantly be taken back to my emotions of that day. I am in awe of anyone with that ability to communicate, and I am sorry that anyone in the visual realm feels they have to apologize for not being able to deliver a snappy sound bite or newspaper quote. I am sorry that we live in a society where one’s glibness is a measure of communicative worth. I am relieved that not everyone can or wants to bubble over in verbiage. It gives my ears a periodic rest and my eyes something far more interesting to rest upon than reams of black type on white paper.

I wonder how many of the 2996 people who died on September 11 ever apologized for the talents they did not have. I wonder how many embraced the talents they did have and were mindful that the world would be a boring place if we were all the same. I wonder how many were thankful that human begins are blessed with the astounding gift of creative expression. I hope the spirits of everyone, living and dead, find peace with the voice they are given.

August 18, 2004

Mosaics, quilts and DNA

Filed under: Art and About Family — admin @ 3:43 pm

I’ve been wondering a lot lately whether artistic style is hereditary. We just bought a house and have a lot of redecorating and remodeling plans in the works to make the house “our own.” As a creative starting point, I decided to try to define what “our own” looks like.

I’ll preface this exercise by admitting that like many American couples, “our own” looks more like “my own” than “my husband’s own.”  Fortunately our tastes are tremendously similar, which makes decorating easy in our house. Hubby will definitely squawk when I make an aesthetic decision that he finds morally offensive, but otherwise we have excellent give and take in the idea-exchange department.
What I learned when I examined our style is that we live in a giant grid. Our design is very linear, with the dominant shapes being squares and rectangles. Our favorite pieces of furniture have straight lines and square shapes. Our art is hung in rectangular frames grouped in rectangular configurations. Our favorite rug has a square pattern on it. We use patchwork quilts and pillows as accent pieces. I adore a coffee table my husband made in junior high, which has an oak frame surrounding a tile chessboard design. We have a decorating theme with almost no variation.

Although I like the sense of order communicated to me through squares and straight lines, I have had to wonder if I am drawn to living life in a grid because of my forebears. My mother and grandmother quilt. My paternal grandfather was a mosaic artist. None of them has been confined to square designs, but there is a strong rectilinear component to their chosen artforms.

Although I don’t often express myself through visual art, when I do, my chosen artform is decoupage, which I consider a lazy-woman’s version of mosaic or quilting. Decoupage designs are unlimited in their freedom of movement, but mine are all comprised of squares and rectangles. This was not a conscious decision at the time of creation, but something I have noticed in retrospect. It’s a little spooky, actually. And genealogically fascinating.

With seven years of higher education to legitimate, I’ve contemplated whether mosaics, quilting and decoupage reflect something more about me than simply a preference for restrictive order. Does art imitate life?

I think I see my life as a mosaic or a patchwork quilt. Different memories, experiences, people and places each inhabit a square in my life story. Each is a self-contained unit, significant by itself. But when the lens pulls pack to see the entire picture, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

I have another ongoing project that constantly provokes me to argue artistic nature versus creative nurture. I inherited innumerable boxes of would-be scrapbook material from my dad when he died. Everything was sorted and organized, but it never made it into a book, which is my current mission. The mounds of paper he kept go back to his earliest years, and every 100 pieces or so, my heart starts racing when I find a newspaper clipping of a theater review, or a photo from a magazine or artistic reflections he wrote to himself that match something I have in my very own scrapbook. Although there is no doubt that my love of theater and creative endeavor was nurtured in my childhood, to see evidence of my dad as a teenager responding to artistry the way I do takes my breath away. It may not be hard for someone like Natalie Cole to figure out where her love of music and performing came from. For me, artistic heredity is subtler, but has an equally strong influence on my life. There are a lot more people influencing “our own” than I originally thought.