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More or less monthly posts about Transformative Healing Dolls
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” from the Gospel of Thomas
Your life is a unique creation
Whatever it is that you do that brings you alive, is of value, especially in these times of upheaval and confusion. I am here to encourage you in whatever that new path might be. It might be changing something about how you wear your clothes, or how you arrange the furniture in your living room or it might be making up a song and performing it in a video It’s all good.
A little bit about my own path…
When working as an art therapist in a Harvard affiliated hospital in a big New England city, I used to sit in team meetings, feeling frustrated. What I was thinking didn’t seem to fit with what was being discussed in the meetings. Too often I would sit mute, listening to all the words but not adding to the dialogue. Or if I spoke, I felt like I had to use my patients’ art as examples of pathology. The clinical language of finding their pathology, labeling it and then figuring out how to fix it felt wrong. In those discussions, learned as they were, and as compassionate as many of the other therapists in the room were, it didn’t seem to me that they were listening for the true voices of the patients.
Nowadays, the narrative in the world of therapy seems much more positive and patient focused.
Art school, pregnancy and then exploration…
As I felt more and more that art therapy wasn’t my path, I returned to art school. I got pregnant, then moved several times to different states, following my husband’s work. After that many years of inner exploration followed: writing, experimenting with all kinds of healing methods, art making and, almost a decade ago, doll making. When I first started making dolls, I experienced truth and resonance in what the dolls were expressing. And when I showed my dolls to others, it seemed they too felt witnessed by my dolls. Even though a lot of what was being expressed in my dolls came out of a deep place inside of me, it seemed to also connect to something deep in others.
Can doll making save your life?
Can doll making save your life? I make this provocative statement, believing it is true, as doll making saved mine. They gave me a voice nothing in my life before had ever done. When I started leading workshops, participants often developed their own voice as they made their dolls.
Creating something new can feel scary, (like a path forward in the time of this pandemic)
Many of us are scrambling to try to find a path forward in this crazy time. We are all challenged to create our lives anew. Recently, a post on Facebook I read about a lecture by a Native American wise woman said, and I am paraphrasing, that we have a choice of either sinking into the void of fear or rising to the challenge and using it to grow. This is a lot like the creative process.
Sometimes when starting a new doll, I can at first have that feeling of muteness that I remember from those clinical meetings. What is trying to come out is different from anything out in the world and at the birthing stage just feels alien and strange. But that is because it is alien. It is something alien and new and there is not, as yet, something in the world that exactly matches it.
Just because it feels alien, doesn’t mean it isn’t of value
Creating something new, whether it be a work of art, a new recipe, a new career path, a different path in life than your childhood and upbringing has led you to, can feel scary and threatening. It can feel like there is no path forward, like you are going to fall off the edge of a cliff. But that isn’t true. Just because something hasn’t existed before, doesn’t mean it isn’t a viable being. It’s just new. And though new can feel scary, it doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. That isn’t known until it is out in the world and gets a chance to speak its voice.
New offer on my website, flip dolls…
And if you would like to experiment with doll making, I am putting some offers on line, starting with a mini book about flip dolls to get you started. This would be the first in a series of mini books and teachings about flip dolls. Flip dolls are uniquely suited to the theme of this article because of their capacity to hold opposites. Those therapists back then were not wrong in trying to understand what the patients suffered. What was missing was the ability to see the patients’ strengths in balance with what might have been wrong. The magic of flip dolls is that they are uniquely suited to hold both the pain of an experience and the hidden strengths that experience might reveal.
If you have some extra time, are not out on the frontlines, having to care for children home from school, or otherwise committed, and this sounds compelling to you, please take a look at the offer and stay tuned for more.
This image came up recently in an intuitive painting and it looked to me like a monk standing below a snake, possibly an animal guide. I don't know yet who he is or why he is talking to the snake. Maybe you have an idea. In any case, he seemed to connect with the theme of monks and saints that I talk about below...
This can be a time alternately of contemplation and relaxation…
Hello again. I hope you have been able to find ways to stay centered during this crazy time we find ourselves in around the world. For me, it continues to be an up and down time. I am grateful that I am still able to make it to my studio and that all of my family is safe. (Making it to my studio, which is a quick walk up the block, may change over the next couple weeks if a more severe quarantine goes into effect.) But at times, especially at night I do find myself falling into a rabbit hole of worry about all the uncertainties and possible dangers that may be ahead of us. I am amazed at the variety of resources that have cropped up in my in-box from all of the wonderful healers and guides that I have been following.
Many of them have been helping me to cope and so, I picked a few of them to share with you below. Maybe some of them will resonate with you too. In addition to guidance that directly addresses ways to cope with the current crisis, I also decided to share some fun resources that I have also been enjoying. This externally imposed retreat can be a time of reflection and contemplation, but there is also time for fun and relaxation. I know that there are still some of you, like my husband who is working directly on a response to the corona virus, who aren’t really in retreat mode and still have to go to work. Yet maybe there are some elements of retreat that you can use to balance the stress of having to navigate this strange situation.
Peregrinatio, contemplative pilgrimage…
I am going to refer often to one of the resources that an artist friend of mine directed me to, a series of talks called a Novena, that address these difficult times. In the Novena talk that I listened to today, Christine Valters Painter describes the Celtic tradition of Peregrinatio. Monks and mystics are celebrated as having taken pilgrimages in small boats called coracles, boats without oars or any form of navigation. The idea is that they were to let the current take them, and that wherever they ended up would be their place to set down roots and establish their ministry. Valters Painter connected the journey of these early saints to our journey right now, trying to navigate the daily uncertainties of life in the time of coronavirus.
One of my favorite stories was the one about St. Brendan, who was guided to take a trip in a coracle. He received guidance that his trip would take one day. Instead it took seven years and took him and his small crew in a series of circles across the Atlantic Ocean. According to the story, on one Easter day, he and his crew landed on a small island, celebrated Easter, only to discover as they were leaving that what they thought was an island was actually the back of a whale!
Over the past week I have been creating a series of painted cards, possibly oracle cards or possibly mini paintings. In a few of them, an image of a small boat showed up, or an image of a waterfall or river and it seemed connected to the story that Valters Painter was telling. Could it be that my unconscious was trying to remind me to let go of control of the things I can’t control right now? (and there are many) It helps me to think that this time could also be an opportunity. Once we are able to take care of the basic needs of having enough food and emergency supplies (not to overdo it!) and that everyone in our family is safe, then there is nothing left to do but just rest in place. And potentially turn inward to our own source of strength, however we would describe it. Valters Painter shared the following poem.
As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace.
List of resources:
Stuff to help deal with the current time of uncertainty:
All free and accessible on-line.
Novena for Times of Unravelling-I didn't know what a novena was before a friend referred me to this wonderful series hosted by the Abbey of the Arts. Wonderful contemplative series of talks on coping with the current crisis.
Tara Brach, Buddhist meditation teacher and scholar. I had been volunteering at her weekly live meditations near where I live but they are of course not happening now. A link to her series of free web-streamed talks and meditations:
Rick Hanson, another Buddhist scholar and wonderful resource: Fear in the Time of the Corona Virus.
Fun stuff if you need a break from reading about coronavirus:
I apologize for some of this only being available on streaming services. But if you have these services, they are definitely worth looking up. True confession, I do spend a lot of time watching movies on-line as a way of relaxing! A guilty pleasure. But there are some other resources here that are easy to access and are free.
Visit 2,500 museums around the world, from the comfort of your sofa. Google has partnered with multiple shuttered museums around to give you an on-line tour of their exhibits.
Podcast, Finding Fred- about Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood by Carvell Wallace. Wallace explores the way Fred Rogers has had an impact on many of his younger generation friends and colleagues, in a series of interviews. Also the two movies about Fred Rogers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (on Prime Video, even though it just came out!) and Won't You Be My Neighbor (HBO). I've seen them both and they are both great.
Podcast, Reply All, especially “The Case of the Missing Hit”-this one is just a fun diversion if you love puzzles and solving mysteries, The hosts of this podcast, PJ Vogt and Alex Goodman, are approached by Tyler Gilette, who has been searching everywhere for a song from the late 90's that cannot get out of his head. The search, documented in this podcast, had me laughing out loud, something much needed these days.
Movie The Freedom Writers on Netflix with Hilary Swank, as a beginning high school English teacher at a public school in Los Angeles after the riots. Based on a true story of a teacher who inspired her students and transformed their lives.
Movie The Intouchables. It’s on iTunes now but I know I saw it somewhere else. Much better than the American remake that just came out. Here is the description: “A Parisian aristocrat, quadriplegic since a paragliding accident, hires a young man to be his live-in caretaker. Although very different the two men bond and develop a close friendship.”
Series Outlander on Starz, (sorry if you don’t have this streaming service. The first seasons are also on Netflix now.) I am obsessed with this series about a World War II nurse who somehow falls into mid 1700’s Scotland before the Scottish rebellion. She discovers her true love and has all sorts of adventures. Based on the book series by Diane Gabaldon.
Joyful side of alter ego flip doll, with image of myself at age seven-ish. Doll at left has a girl riding a sea turtle on the skirt. Doll at right has altered image of me with sisters and a family friend.
Greetings all! What surreal times we are living in, at least in the US right now. I wonder how you are all doing? Every day seems to bring new challenges, new opportunites to either collapse into fear or frustration or to rise to the challenge. I have found myself in both places off and on over the last days.
The last post here was about a flip doll workshop that I was excited to share with local followers. Last Thursday afternoon, I was sitting in my studio ready to sort through the wonderful fabrics, embroidery threads, and some enticing new fabrics I had ordered from India to get ready for my alter ego flip doll workshop. Then I got a call from Erin at Halcyon, saying, "hey, Erika, I just came out of a planning meeting and we have decided to put off all events for at least the next month. Do you want to reschedule your workshop to May?" Well, I had just come from a meeting at the Jackson Art Center, where I have my studio and we had decided to put everything off until the fall. No Spring Open Studios, no talks, of which I was going to give one on Flip Dolls, none of that until the fall.
So I said, let's switch it to September. The new date for the Alter Ego Flip Doll workshop is the weekend of September 12 and 13, a Saturday and Sunday. We didn't decide anything about the April self compassion wrap doll workshop but I have a strong feeling that one will be put off as well. Halcyon, as many institutions including schools and art centers are doing, is addressing this one month at a time.
What are you doing with this unexpected time?
Instead of putting the final touches to my handouts for the Saturday workshop and getting supplies together, here I was on Friday, making a video of myself painting in an altered book. This has become a daily practice as of late. Below are a couple videos, showing some of the pages I have done so far and also the beginnings of one of the altered pages in process. The videos are a bit rough as of yet. This is one of my missions lately-to learn videotaping and start to offer more videos here, mostly about doll-making but just as a way of trying something different, I am sharing this painting process here. Stay tuned for more videos, hopefully of doll making as well.
After I finished this painting, I finished the flip dolls, shown above.
There is something very therapeutic about this way of painting intuitively. It seems to tap into whatever is hovering or maybe lurking under the surface emotionally, waiting to be expressed.
What got me started on this process is an online class I took in January with Fonda Clark Haight called The Down Deep. I strongly recommend this class as a way to get your creative juices flowing. She only offers it in the beginning of the year but you can get on the mailing list for next year.
Here's the second video. It's already about 14 minutes long. Sorry so long. And it stops abruptly. Below is the finished image. This just gives you an idea of my process.
The finished and as yet, untitled image. I am amazed at how this process is like the Rohrschach, which is a psychological testing technique in which someone is asked to view a series of ink blot images and name this images that they see within the ink blots. Supposedly the answers reveal all sorts of truths about what is going on with that person psychologically.
So, what's this about? This image probably has a lot to do with the fears that are coming up for me around the corona virus, the uncertainty and all the media coverage of the dangers that we are facing. Perhaps this is an image of the lurking virus? Curious to hear what you see here?
The video cuts off just when I am starting to talk about these flip dolls. What I was about to say was that the "petulant" side of the flip doll shows two different aspects of one of my inner demons.. Dark times can trigger inner demons, for instance, that greedy, grasping place of not enough. On the left, a hungry, angry mouth swallows up the joyful image of me, my sisters and a family friend. Someone on my Instagram where I shared this image said, "it looks like she is so jealous of that happy group that she decides to eat them up." Sometimes that demon of not enough can be so strong that even joy is swallowed up. On the right is that same greedy, grasping mood, this time shown in the figure at the top grabbing at the bottom figure's heart, while also grasping at some gifts with her other hand.
This side of the doll is counteracted by the joyful side, seen in the above images of the other side of the doll. There, in one of the dolls, the little girl on the skirt rides joyfully on her sea turtle companion. On the skirt of the other doll, she participates fully in the companionship and joy of her sisters and friend.
In this crazy corona virus time, as I was saying above, we have the choice of collapsing into ourselves with worry and fear or of rising above it and seeing whatever joy there is available. Joy in having extra time with family members, being home together. Time to rest. Time to experience nature. But not at all to judge the scary feelings and the fears, just to let them coexist with the good.
Sorry, this was kind of rambly today. Next time I will go back hopefully to my normal kinds of newsletters. I think today I just wanted to say, I am here. I am thinking of all of you. To those of you who were going to come to the workshop today, I am thinking of you too. I hope you consider rejoining in September but I understand if that doesn't fit into your schedule. Hopefully these videos are of interest and maybe they inspire you to do some explorations of your own,
I'd like to hear what you are up to during these challenging times. What is helping you to stay calm? What are you finding to be therapeutic?
Love to all!
“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.”
If only there were a way to hold onto the bliss of spiritual connection…
This winter I took an enlightening on-line class with shamanic guide, Sandra Ingerman called Healing with Spiritual Light. There was one exercise in the class that she called “transfiguring” in which one meditates on being filled with spiritual light. I’ve been practicing this exercise on and off since then. It’s a very simple practice that you can do almost anywhere. Sometimes I would meditate on light and feel completely transported and sometimes I wouldn’t feel it as strongly.
But what I noticed most of all, is how hard it was to hold onto that feeling once I got caught up in my daily life. For instance, I would come out of my moments of blissful morning meditation, only to feel like yelling at a family member for leaving dishes in the sink for me to clean up. Poof! There goes all that beautiful light! Or I would get upset at someone honking his horn at a pedestrian slowly crossing the street and the bliss would feel like it was gone.
If you are a member of my email list, I am pretty sure that you also want to live a life guided by spiritual ideals and probably have some sort of spiritual practices that you follow like yoga or meditation. And maybe, like me, you often find that you are distracted in daily life from those intentions. What to do?
Beyond wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field…
What is Rumi talking about here?
We all know on some level that there really is a place, where we are all connected by a web of love and where we aren’t affected by distractions like ego struggles. I don’t presume to be able explain Rumi’s words, but his words have stayed in my head for a long time since I first heard them. They resonate with someplace deep inside of me, a place that knows that when we let go of judgments and critical thoughts, we begin to find peace.
What does this have to do with making alter ego flip dolls?
Flip dolls have two sides, so there is always an element of opposites in them. And yet, the truth about these dolls is that however opposite one side is from the other, they are always connected at the waist. An alter ego is basically an alternate or opposite self. The alter ego might be that light-filled place that we come to when we meditate on spiritual connection. So that would be one side of the doll. The other side might be that place we go to when we are distracted by the daily challenges of life, where we fall into feelings of jealousy or rage, or maybe just discomfort. You can experience in a visceral way by flipping the skirt from one side to the other, how both sides are connected. This reminds us not to feel self-judgment when we are caught up in an emotional reaction. This also shows how just by an action as simple as flipping a skirt, we can return to our natural state of peace.
There is something about taking the time to carefully stitch, sew, and craft a doll, which represents ourselves from two different perspectives, and that helps to bring understanding and self awareness. The process of making the doll is meditative. And once the doll is finished, one has a mirror, a reflection of who we are in that moment. Or in this case, in those two moments.
Maybe that is why I am so obsessed with flip dolls...
And when I teach this process to others, the participants in my workshops seem to have similar insights and discoveries. I remember a while back when I was teaching the alter ego flip doll in a paper doll format, that one of the participants made a doll about the way she presents herself in professional situations. On one side of the doll was her quieter, politically correct even, self that seemed to conform to the requirements of her work environment. But on the other side, she discovered a powerful, even fierce self that revealed the deeper self that advocated for and protected her.
I’ve been working on two flip dolls in preparation for the workshop this Saturday with two faces of myself as a child. One is a joyful, full-of-life face. The other is petulant and sad. I’ve been playing with the ways that I can accept both sides equally. Though it is harder for me to allow that petulant face, I know that allowing both petulant and joyful is a way towards fuller self-acceptance. A way towards that place beyond right or wrong doing that Rumi speaks of.
Reminder-Alter Ego Flip dolls this weekend at Halcyon:
The alter ego flip doll workshop starts this Saturday, the 14th from 10-3, with a second session the following Saturday. There is still room in the workshop for one or two more participants. So if you have been considering whether you want to take part in this workshop, it’s not too late. I would really love to have you there!
For more information or to sign up, go to the link above or click on the photo above. You can also read answers to commonly asked questions about this workshop on my offers page.
the latest version-two sides-of the prototype flip doll I have been working on for the alter ego flip doll workshop, still in process: "Sin eater"/Guardian of the Sacred Garden
I have a fear of sewing machines (!) but still use them….
Even though I have sewn a lot of dolls, I still don’t feel confident with sewing and especially not with sewing machines. (Needle felting is my go-to medium but I have been branching out lately.) Once, during one of the workshops with the homeless women at N. Street Village in DC, while demonstrating some sewing technique or another, I managed to break the needle on not just one but two sewing machines! Luckily I had some extra needles and was able to replace both. Somehow sewing machines and I don’t really get along and yet I seem to manage anyway. One of my flip dolls, Facing Fears/Transforming Fears has a series of what I call “pods” that have to do with my various fears and one of them is of sewing machines!
Images above are of the Facing Fears/Transforming Fears flip doll in progress. You can see the "pods" in two of the images, including the "fear of sewing machine" one! The idea of this doll, by the way, was that on one side, the pods revealed some of my fears, and on the other side, the fears were transformed by the healing energy which came out of the fingertip of one of my inspirations, Louise Bougeois.
The myth of the “right” way to sew (or do anything that really matters)
Anyway, what’s my point here? My point is, if you are thinking of joining one or both of the healing doll workshops coming up at Halcyon in March or April, and you are concerned that you don’t know enough about sewing, you don’t have to worry. There isn’t really “right” way to sew. Or, well, maybe some fiber artists wouldn’t agree with this. Many textile artists can create all sorts of beautiful hand stitches or can sew perfectly with a machine and when I look at their work on Pinterest, I find it hard not to feel envious and inadequate. I struggle with making seams that are neat and edges that hold togehter without bulging. I end up hiding a lot under a beautiful surface, to be honest! What I have come to realize is that, in order to sew well enough to put together a doll, you don’t have to be perfect.
The freedom that comes from being a beginner
One of the best moments in the series of workshops at N Street village two years ago was watching one of the women who had never sewn before, go about creating her flip doll (see above). She was fearless. Instead of worrying about technique or the right way to do things, she just went ahead and stitched in the way that felt right to her and her doll was amazingly powerful and expressive. This was a revelation also to some of the volunteers from the Potomac Fiber Arts Association who were assisting with the workshops. There was a freedom in the approach of the women we were supposedly teaching, that many of us didn’t feel ourselves. They ended up teaching us many things, including this freedom in approaching how to sew.
journal image I created in one of Fonda Clark Haight's classes recently, which inspired the "sin eater/guardian of the sacred garden flip doll.
What really matters…
In the words of one of my new mentors, Fonda Clark Haight, who was talking about painting, but the same idea applies for sewing, “it doesn’t matter about technique. That can be learned. But what matters is (I’m paraphrasing here) authenticity and truth. As long as you are expressing your truth, your authentic voice, the rest can be learned.” And this of course can be translated to all areas of life as well. What really matters is your mindset and willingness to try rather than already knowing what to do. For the first workshop I am offering in March, we will be exploring our alter egos. What are those parts of ourselves that we don't usually see or want to reveal? In the past when I have offered this kind of workshop, participants have discovered all sorts of hidden strengths in themselves, through the medium of doll making. There is something about making a doll that reflects self truths back to us. I look forward to what participants will learn in this upcoming workshop and also to what I will learn from them. I always learn right along with you all.
Here’s the information again…
So that’s my little pep talk. Thanks for reading this far! If you are thinking of joining, either the Alter Ego Flip doll workshop on March 14 and 21, 10-3 or the Self Compassion Wrap doll workshop on Saturday, April 18 to Sunday, April 19. also 10-3, just come ready to express yourself and the rest will come. Not that you won’t learn techniques and approaches, but that you don’t need to know them ahead of time. We will be hand sewing in the flip doll workshop (but I may bring my sewing machine if I am feeling brave, in case you want to go a little quicker with some of the steps). And for the self compassion wrap doll workshop in April, there isn’t as much sewing involved as we will be wrapping fabric around sticks. Though if you want, you can get more complicated with stitching there too. I really hope you join us. I would love to have you there. I think there are a couple spots left in each of the workshops.
Also for more information and some answers to commonly asked questions, see the workshops page of my website.
By the way, there are lots of other cool workshops being offered at Halcyon if you go check out their website! That’s it for now.
Oh and here are some flip dolls I recently saw at an amazing event at the Library of Congress, in the Benjamin Botkin Folklife Lecture Series: "African American Dollmaking and Puppetry: Renegotiating Identity, Restoring Community." The talk which can be accessed on the website at the Library of Congress, was very moving and fascinating. I was glad to be able to meet and talk to many of the artists and to hear their stories during the lecture.
These two flip dolls are by exhibiting artists, Barbara Taylor Hunter and Imani Russell.
.Winter is here though it doesn't really feel like it in DC. It's been unusually warm here. I even saw forsythia and pussy willows this weekend! I've been doing some fun explorations in my studio lately. The image above is from a workshop I am taking called "The Down Deep" with the amazing Fonda Clark Haight. I highly recommend it. We are using a variety of techniques to tap into our deepest selves. This one came from a process of starting with an "ugly background" and finding images in it. Still exploring what this one is about though I'm calling it "Elven Fairy Solstice Ritual" for now. The Celtic symbol of the male elf's chest (which I added later, see left) has to do with the union of sky, earth and sea.
It's been fun getting back to painting and drawing and also fun to play around without the pressure of an end result. I've been posting about what is coming up on my Instagram page.
Some thoughts about transformation...
Recently I sold the last of the small versions of my Rhea: Shedding the Old doll. Greg Sandow wanted the doll as a holiday gift for his wife, Anne, who was retiring from a long-held position as classical music critic at the Washington Post. Greg reported that his wife found the doll to be inspirational during her time of transition and that she will be keeping it on her desk at home. Thank you to Greg and Anne for letting me share your story!
It turns out that making this doll was a pivotal experience for me as well. The larger version of this doll was one of the first dolls that I ever made. She was the doll that got me started with Transformative Healing Dolls. Fulfilling this request for the small Rhea doll got me thinking about the metaphor of shedding the old that this doll represents.
I was reading Buddhist healer and transformational speaker, Tara Brach's new book, Radical Compassion, that I mentioned in my last newsletter and she mentioned a wonderful story about shedding skin.
Here's the story, apparently a traditional story from Polynesia:
"In ancient times, a revered tribal leader went regularly to the river to shed her skin, each time returning to her village renewed and invigorated. But one day, things changed. Instead of floating away, her old skin got caught in a bit of driftwood. And when she returned home, her daughter ran away from her in fear, because this raw-skinned person no longer looked like her familiar self.
Finally, unable to comfort her daughter, the woman went back to the river, found her old skin, and put it back on. And from that time on, the story tells us, humans lost their power to rejuvenate, to live and love fully. They became mere mortals, entangled in fears of failure and the need to cover over their flaws." page 57, Radical Compassion.
I love this story! It reminds me to return to that place of newness whenever I can, instead of getting stuck in habits out of fear or just because of being used to a certain way of doing things. I guess that all of my dolls are about change in some way. Recently, the flip doll has become an important metaphor for me and I have a couple things to share about my recent adventures with flip dolls below.
Adventures with Flip dolls..
I'm offering another flip doll workshop at Halcyon in DC, this time about alter egos. This image is of the flip doll workshop last year that was about grandmothers and ancestors.
Upcoming flip doll workshop...Saturdays, March 14 and 21 at the Halcyon Center in DC. 10 to 3 pm each day. If you'd like to join us, you can sign up on the Halcyon site.
This is what I said about the workshop on the Halcyon website:
Alter Ego Flip Doll workshop. With their built in connection to one another, flip dolls are a perfect medium to explore our alter ego; the side of our personality that is usually hidden and can represent a hidden strength or a darker side of ourselves we may not be aware of. Participants will have the chance to represent the 'face' they present to the world and their alternative self in one doll. The workshop will start with a brief guided meditation and journaling before leaping into doll making.
This workshop promises to be a lot of fun and a chance for inner exploration through doll making. You don't have to know anything about doll making to come to the workshop-there will be lots of guidance and it's more about expressing yourself than making something perfect. If you came to the last one, this will build on what you did then.
Here's what some previous participants said about the flip doll workshop last year.
The beautifully expressive flip doll below is from the previous "Ancestors and Grandmothers" flip doll workshop and is by art therapist, Julie Wood Merchant. The doll in a blue dress is her maternal grandmother and the doll in the purple dress is her paternal grandmother. Kudos to Julie and thank you for letting me share this doll (which she finished at home, giving her time to add more details.)
And on another front, one of my flip dolls was recently accepted to an exhibit at a venue where I also showed last year, the Annmarie Sculpture Garden and Art Center.
My doll, "Medusa and the Octopus" is going to be in a show called "SHE: An Expression of Womanhood," juried by Camy Clough, of the Smithsonian Museum of American History, from February 14th to September 27th. The reception is February 14th.
Here's what I said about the doll in my artist statement for the exhibit: "this two sided doll, in showing another side to the iconic Medusa figure, utilises her and the octopus as symbols of the source of woman's creativity. One on side "Medusa" swims free with the octopus at the bottom of the ocean. On the other side they sit drinking tea together. As women, we are boundless and free, yet at times we do like to sit and drink tea with an octopus."
The Annmarie Center is a wonderful place, located on Solomans Island and built on a beautiful wooded landscape. They even have a "Women's Walk,"...this lovely walk features a selection of bronze female figures intended as a celebration of the female form as well as an exploration of the experience of being female. From Gerhard Marcks' youthful Girl with Braids to Nelly Bar's shadow-like Standing Nude and Francisco Zuniga's grandmotherly Seated Woman, this evocative collection affords the opportunity to reflect upon significant women in your life. Benches along the walk allow for thoughtful contemplation." It's a beautiful place for a weekend excursion!
One last piece of inspiration on the theme of transformation. This poem was brought to my attention by one of my on-line friends and for me is a good reminder of the way transformation usually works in the real world.
You keep waiting for something to happen,
the thing that lifts you out of yourself,
catapults you into doing all the things you’ve put off
the great things you’re meant to do in your life,
but somehow never quite get to.
You keep waiting for the planets to shift
the new moon to bring news,
the universe to align, something to give.
Meanwhile, the pile of papers, the laundry, the dishes the job— it all stacks up while you keep hoping
for some miracle to blast down upon you,
scattering the piles to the winds.
Sometimes you lie in bed, terrified of your life.
Sometimes you laugh at the privilege of waking.
But all the while, life goes on in its messy way.
And then you turn forty. Or fifty. Or sixty…
and some part of you realizes you are not alone
and you find signs of this in the animal kingdom --
when a snake sheds its skin its eyes glaze over,
it slinks under a rock, not wanting to be touched,
and when caterpillar turns to butterfly
if the pupa is brushed, it will die --
and when the bird taps its beak hungrily against the egg
it’s because the thing is too small, too small,
and it needs to break out.
And midlife walks you into that wisdom
that this is what transformation looks like --
the mess of it, the tapping at the walls of your life,
the yearning and writhing and pushing,
until one day, one day
you emerge from the wreck
embracing both the immense dawn
and the dusk of the body,
just as you are.
- Leza Lowitz
So wonderful to be here and to have you all here too! I have lots of plans for the new year. New shows and hopefully more workshops. I look forward to sharing new developments with you here.
,Hello all! It’s been a while since I have written and I have missed you all. I hope this past few months have been treating you well. Life has pulled me in various directions that have distracted me from writing this newsletter, but as the year draws to a close I am inspired to write again. I wanted to share with you some resources and inspirations that I have come across over the past few months, including some artists that I have been following.
And I wanted to tell you about some upcoming events and workshops that I will be participating in. If you are local, I hope you can make it to the biannual Open Studios at the Jackson Art Center, on Sunday, December 8th. The building looks great inside with a brand new coat of paint on all the inner walls and also with structural reinforcement of the brick walls surrounding the perimeter of the building. And last weekend my husband Peter came to my studio to paint the inner doors that lead to my studio a beautiful bright blue.
I will be offering a couple workshops in the spring again at Halcyon, Alter Ego flip dolls, Saturdays, March 14 and 21, 10-3 PM and Self Compassion Wrap dolls, Saturday and Sunday, April 18 and 19, 10-3 PM. They will build on the ones I offered this spring but at the same time, if you are new to doll-making, you will still be able to participate without having been to the last ones. I’ll be posting more about these when it gets closer to the date. NOTE: corrected date, March workshop is the 14th and 21st, two consecutive Saturdays.
If you live anywhere Richmond, Virginia, I will be in a wonderful exhibit there called Black Doll Magic and will also be giving a talk, The History of the Topsy Turvy Doll at this venue on December 6th.
Antidotes to the Stresses of the Season
How to nourish one’s spirit during challenging times?
Lately I’ve been feeling the need to nourish my inner self, trying to find ways to manage the weirdness of the current state of the world. This can be particularly challenging because we live in DC. The last few months have been a time of exploration and expansion and I have been letting myself be open to a wide variety of methods of self-care. I don’t know about you but my life seems to be cyclical, with some times being more outward focused and some times being more inward. This past few months has been one of those inward times. What’s interesting too, is that these inward periods are a source, almost like the inner work becomes the compost that is the source of my ideas and my creativity. Seeds get planted and sometimes it can take many years to see the fruit of each particular seed.
It feels good to reach out to all of you and share some of the meditation and other self-nourishing methods I have been looking into these past few months. I hope that they prove to be useful to you and I would love to hear your thoughts.
1. Self Compassion: First is a new on-line class on meditation that I found at Sounds True, a wonderful website that offers tons of free healing resources and also sells books and on-line classes. I had heard about Kristin Neff, who is basically a guru of the self-compassion movement of the past ten or so years. Her new class is called The Yin and Yang Self Compassion: Cultivating Kindness and Strength in the Face of Difficulty, In this series, Neff addresses the ways in which self-compassion is sometimes misunderstood and discounted. She expands the definition of self-compassion to include a tougher, “mama bear” yang compassion, which is more active and forceful than the traditional gentler, yin compassion.
Yang is the compassion that helps firefighters to run into buildings to save people, that allows teachers to make sacrifices for their students, and parents to work long hours to provide for their children. She references some very interesting research that shows the power of yang compassion, and counteracts the criticism that compassion is “weak.” For instance, in a study that looked at the effects of trauma among Iraq war veterans, she discovered that the ability to have self-compassion actually was a more accurate predictor of PTSD symptoms as compared to exposure to traumatic combat experiences.
She makes an interesting point about yin compassion, as well, that in contrast to a commonly held belief that compassion is “selfish,” in fact self-compassion increases the ability to be there for others. In other studies, she and her colleagues found that those who have higher levels of self-compassion are more effective teachers, care-givers, health professionals and get higher marks from their partners on their ability to be present. My experience with this class has inspired me to offer a workshop in the spring centered on self-compassion, (click for Halcyon workshop schedule if you already know you'd like to sign up. Scroll down to April for the self compassion wrap dolls workshop) Neff talks about is how helpful it is to have a symbol that you can use as a reminder to connect with your own self-compassion. In the workshop we will be creating self-compassion wrap dolls, which can serve as such a reminder.
2. Living with Uncertainty and Managing Difficult Emotions: Pema Chodron, Tara Brach and Tsultrim Allione, mindfulness and Buddhist meditation.
I don’t think of myself as a Buddhist and yet I am drawn to many of the tenets of this approach to spirituality. I’ve loved Pema Chodron and Tara Brach, both Buddhist meditation teachers, for so long. Tsultrim Allione is someone I have discovered more recently. I have this year been developing a daily meditation practice and have used Pema Chodron’s books link as inspiration. My favorites right now are: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times and Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change and I must have read and reread both of these books at least 5 or 6 times! Chodron has an amazing ability to wake me up to the reality of what is important in life. It’s not the outer world with its ups and downs that matter-in fact what is most certain in life is that there is no certainty at all. The more I can let go of the need for control and instead rest in the flow of life, the more I can begin to find stillness and peace.
I have known also about Tara Brach for a long time, ever since we lived in Boston back in the beginning of the 1990’s. When we moved to DC I knew she had a meditation center here but never went to it. So finally this fall I have begun to go to her meditation center. a wonderful, healing space for a weekly sangha or communal meditation and inspirational talks. She has free resources such as videos and writings on her website link and has also published a couple books that focus on her unique method of witnessing and accepting ones own difficult emotions. She has a new book coming out soon, Radical Compassion, see her website to preorder. It's also about compassion!
Tsultrim Allione comes at Buddhism from a different perspective and I have just begun listening to a book that has to do with a particular form of healing from inner pain called (I often listen to, rather than read books these days. I find I absorb the material better and also I can do this while driving or working in my studio.) Feeding Your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflict. Whew, this is a powerful book and it might not appeal to everyone. But her method of transforming difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions into “demons” with detailed imagined physical presences that you then work with through an interactive meditational conversation really piqued my interest. If you know my work, you might understand this. Many of my dolls have to do with demons of sorts, for instance, my Taming the Dragon Within.
Allione came to this method as a way of healing from some painful experiences of her own and the book is her adaptation of an ancient meditation technique, called Chöd, first developed by an eleventh century female Buddhist teacher named Machig Labdrön (1055–1145.) She simplified this technique, which involved the use of ancient musical instruments, elaborate traditional meditation images, into a series of steps through which you visualize, ask questions of, “feed” and then transform your “demon.” I look forward to exploring this one more and using it as an inspiration for doll making.
Click on the above image for an interesting article in Lion's Roar that summarizes how her technique works.
3. Expanding Your Capacity for Joy and Connecting to Nature and the World of Spirits:
I just started taking another on-line class, also at Sounds True, with shaman and teacher, Sandra Ingerman, called Healing with Spiritual Light. I first heard about Sandra Ingerman from an amazing boss that I had in my first job as an art therapist. She took me and a colleague on a trip to the town of Woodstock, New York. We stopped on the way and Linda, my boss, had me and my colleague lie down on blankets in the grass while she led us on a shamanic journey. All I can remember now is that I saw a deer as my power animal. Linda told me about Sandra Ingerman and ever since I have been following her work. The Healing with Spiritual Light class is wonderful! So far we are into the third week, you could still join! and were are connecting with nature spirits, learning to “transfigure” into beings of light as a way to remember our capacity for joy. Through informal talks, journeys and journaling we are inspired to remember how we are all connected to each other and to nature.
Inspiration from other artists:
Some artists I have been following, please take a look:
Sybil Archibald: I don’t know how I first heard about Sybil Archibald, but I have been following her work on Instagram and Facebook and find her very inspiring, things like the fact that she studied medieval mysticism in college and then soon after graduation was diagnosed with a scleredoma, an autoimmune disease that made it difficult for her to walk and impossible to sleep because of the pain. She was given five years to live. She turned to art to help heal herself and it was some of these earlier sculptures of medieval figures all with openings in their heads or backs to allow the light of God to enter them, that combined her interest in medieval mysticism and her need to heal that first drew my interest. Though her disease makes it difficult to work, she has an incredible drive and enthusiasm and it is now 25 years later and she is still working and thriving. For instance she has been making a monotype a day for almost two years now, even bringing the printmaking materials into the hospital during complications in her disease, so that she could continue to work. I have never met her but I just love her!
The image is of St Theresa: The Interior Castle, acrylic paint on wood and clay,
Kathy Ruttenberg: I think I have written about Kathy Ruttenberg before but she is another one of my inspirations. Her large-scale figurative and fantastical ceramic sculptures are difficult to describe but truly blow me away. Recently she had a series of sculptures, In Dreams Awake, commissioned for various parks and plazas throughout New York City. The other cool thing about her is that she lives on a farm in upstate New York with the pigs, dogs and other animals that inspire her and often show up in her work.
The image above is Overgrown, ceramic sculpture, 2010.
Chris Roberts Antieau: at Antieau Gallery in New Orleans and now also New Mexico. When I was at the Torpedo Factory, another artist at the factory told me about this artist and her gallery, thinking that my work would fit in there. Well, that hasn’t happened yet but I love this self-taught fiber artist’s work and find her inspirational as well. It was wonderful to be able to see her works in person recently at the Superfine Arts Show in DC. Her humorous and dream-inspired stitched “paintings” are full of the joy of living!
Image is The Physics of Sunken Ships, fabric applique and embroidery.
The above four images are from the Kalili series: Kaili on Flootnern Mountain, Kalili's story in Twelve books, Books Five and Six from a series of twelve tritychs from the Kalili story
What I’ve been working on in my studio:
I’ve been in my studio over these last months, working on one or the other of two themes, Kalili’s Journey (see above images) and my ancestor series (see below images.) I think I’ve written about these in past newsletters but will write more in the future. I have been posting about these on Instagram so if you want to get a glimpse of this, please visit my Instagram page, my tag name is erikacleve.
Above are a couple of the dolls from my on-going ancestor series. Both are flip dolls about my grandmothers. The one on the left is a family tree of my maternal grandmothers and great-grandmothers. The one on the right has both my maternal and paternal grandmothers-one on each side.
Flip Doll Book in the works…some day:
Whenever people write to me at my website, it is most often related to the flip dolls that I make, teach workshops about and write about. I am thinking about writing a book about them, based on what I have done with them so far. I could use some feedback about this so if you are interested in hearing more, let me know. I will give you updates and will be looking for someone to test out chapters as I write them.
One of the people who contacted me about flip dolls was an artist, Priyah Bhagat and she was interested in having me give a talk about flip dolls for a show she is organizing called Black Doll Magic in Richmond Virginia. I said yes and so will be giving a talk, and also showing some of my dolls in her show. See above for more information about this show.
Image is Transforming Fear side of Facing Fear/Transforming Fear flip doll, soft sculpture, sculptural needle felted and mixed media.
Exploring our ancestors and grandmothers stories through the vehicle of flip dolls...
Two weekends ago I was honored to be able to facilitate a wonderful group of women, to make ancestor/grandmother flip dolls. These creative women reminisced about grandmothers and using a variety of techniques created unique dolls. Some used the transfer technique to add images of their relatives faces and some either drew or stitched their faces.
Then they used the doll skirts as a way of representing elements of their ancestors, or in some cases of themselves, through symbols or costume. For instance, there was a mother and daughter who created flip dolls about their mother/grandmother. One ingeniously decorated flip doll depicted the wife/husband pair top and bottom, front and back, with the younger and older pair displayed. And there was a pair of sisters who created dolls that were more alter ego than ancestors.
This was the first time in a long time that I had offered a two day workshop like this but the time went quickly. I was amazed that most of the women finished their dolls. I am still fascinated with flip dolls and with the idea of exploring the stories of our ancestors.
It was a magical weekend. Here are some of the photos.
Stay tuned for more workshops and other ways of sharing my love of flip dolls.
Recently and as part of my solo exhibit, There, There: Healing Dolls as Solace in an Off Kilter World, January 19-March 2, 2019, at the WAS Gallery in Bethesda, MD, I participated in a panel discussion on the state of fiber art in the larger world of art. It was an interesting and wide-ranging discussion, moderated by the curator, Joumana Moukarim.
Blair Murphy, curator at the Arlington Art Center also participated in this panel discussion. Murphy had just curated a fiber art exhibit, Over, Under, Forward, Back, at the AAC, January 12-March 30, 2019. I will include some of my observations from the AAC exhibit and artist talks in this article. I appreciated the chance to hear what many artists who use fiber as materials in their work had to say in both venues. This article is an attempt to share and reflect on some of the ideas that came up. For the purposes of this article I will use the term fiber art to describe both fiber and textile art.
Erika Cleveland, WAS Gallery exhibit There, There: Healing Dolls as Solace in an Off Kilter World, January-March 2019, photo credit Pete Duvall
My dilemma as a healing doll artist, fiber artist?
I sometimes wonder about how to present myself as an artist. I am a healing doll maker and yes, I am a fiber artist but I feel like that doesn’t fully describe the range of what I do. A doll maker can use a wide array of media: sticks, wire, wood, clay, porcelain, even cornhusks or apple cores. It is just that I happen to like making dolls using wool, with a technique of poking a barbed needle into the wool. I show my work in venues that seek fiber artists but also sometimes in venues where fiber art is more of a second thought. While fiber art is starting to be more recognized in the larger art world and even sometimes celebrated, it can still feel challenging to find my niche in that world. So the question of fiber art’s place in the larger art world felt to me like a very timely topic for discussion. I’m not sure if any of what I share here will answer any questions. Perhaps more importantly, it will open up useful discussions. The discussions I attended and took part in certainly helped me to clarify my own feelings about why I do what I do and hopefully this article will do the same for you.
detail Erika Cleveland, Your Task is Not to Seek Love, But to Remove the Barriers that Prevent You from Receiving Love, Wrap doll with sticks, fabric and mixed media, 2019, photo credit, Pete Duvall
Why do I use fiber as a medium?
At the WAS panel discussion, Joumana asked me to describe why I am a fiber artist, why did I choose this medium? I talked about how I am drawn to the tactile quality of sculptural needle felting, and the way in which the surface created by needle felting feels as close to human skin as I could get. The tactile and meditative quality of the process of working with wool, the slow poking of the needle repeatedly into the wool, was also something that drew me to this medium. The curator then asked me what I thought of the way Mark Jenkins (in a recent Washington Post article about the solo show at the WAS Gallery) described my work in his article for the Washington Post as “playfully grotesque.” My answer-his comment describes my work well, in that my work sometimes comes from a dark place but this darkness is always offset by playfulness. His comment, with its contrast between playful and grotesque also echoes the dichotomies that exist in all my dolls, especially the flip dolls.
Two sides of Erika Cleveland, Rhea, Mother Earth/Raina, Every Woman is an Empress, Sculptural needle felted and mixed media, 49 x 20 x 11, 2016
Is the recent upsurge of mainstream exhibits of fiber art a “flash in the pan?”
Joumana then referenced the current resurgence of interest in fiber art, given that there have been several fiber art shows in DC now or recently, and asked, “is this recent resurgence of fiber art exhibitions a flash in the pan or is this going to continue?” She turned to Arlington Arts Center’s curator Blair Murphy first, asking about her, Over, Under, Forward, Back show, which featured twelve artists who use fiber in their work. Joumana asked how Blair chose artists and what themes the AAC curator saw in this show. Blair answered, “the way we find artists for shows is a combination of artists submitting work to our two open calls and my own research and outreach…For the two thematic exhibitions we do every year (which includes the recent fibers show, Over, Under, Forward, Back) I invite artists to participate based on my vision for the exhibition. I try to keep up with going out to see new work in the DC area and further afield to find new artists. I also keep up with different artists, organizations, and galleries on Instagram and will often seek out artists for studio visits after I've seen their work on that platform. Our two open calls provide a way for me to find new artists for our thematic shows as well - there are often artists who might not be selected for SOLOS or the biennial, but I'll do a studio visit with them and potentially include their work in one of our other exhibitions if I think it's a good fit.”
Themes in the AAC fiber art exhibit
In answer to the question about themes, Blair said,“it's important that the artists are really mastering the techniques, they're really committed to the craft and the process. And then from there, they're thinking about how to use them differently than intended. Sarah J. Hull is a good example of this trend - she's participating in a certificate program with the Royal School of Needlework but is really interested in thinking about embroidery in the context of contemporary art and how to experiment with the techniques she learns.” In addition, she sought artists whose response to the specific material of fiber art both informed their work and led to more universal themes.
“Artists are exploring broader themes and those themes are often tied to the material itself. So Steven Frost's weavings incorporates recycled material related to his personal history (like old middle school t-shirts) or to broader political history (pink material leftover from pussy hats from the Denver Women's March in 2016).”
She also sought artists who combined fiber art techniques in unique ways, such as the way Raina Hassan combined woven techniques of metal-infused threads, connected by these threads to paintings. Some of the artists combined ancient art forms such as weaving with recent technology. “One of the interests in technology in relation to fibers comes from the historic connections between the two. Robin Kang, another artist in the show, is interested in the historic ties between weaving and contemporary digital technology. The punch card system that Jacquard invented for his loom inspired the punch card systems that were used in very early computers. The memory cards of very early computers often had hand woven copper cables on them. So this material that we think of as very traditional and ancient also has connections to very contemporary technology. Robin works on a TC-2 Digital Jacquard Loom, which integrates digital technology. My understanding of the loom is that the initial design and setup is done digitally but then she's still manipulating the weft by hand, which allows her to alter and manipulate it as she's weaving.”
I am glad that I got a chance to see the Over Under exhibit before it came down, and to hear the artists whom Blair had described speak about their work. There were many overlaps between the discussions at the two venues, for instance, artists at both described how fiber art leads naturally to collaboration and mutual support, such as the sharing of techniques among artists. The AAC seems to be exceptionally receptive and open to fiber art as a venue for their exhibits. I was lucky to have had an exhibit there several years ago, in collaboration with Stacy Cantrell. We had our community based exhibit, featuring our large scale crocheted and needle felted figures, Materialized Magic: Mythical Creatures in a Yarn Artistry Habitat that venue. This receptiveness does not seem to always be the case, as seen in some of the comments by panelists in the WAS gallery discussion.
Rania Hassan, Tangle, Oil, fiber, wood, 2017 (a version of this piece was shown at the AAC)
Resurgence of Fiber art shows in the mainstream as part of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter
At the WAS gallery panel discussion, Stacy Cantrell, artist and independent curator, addressed the question of whether the current interest in fiber arts will continue. She pointed out that feminist movements, such as the #Me Too and #Black Lives Matter can also bring a resurgence of interest in fiber arts. She said that she “wants to ride out this trend as long as it lasts,” but noted that she often encounters challenges when submitting her work to shows that are inclusive of a wide range of media. Often, she says, there is a lack of knowledge on the part of the juror or curator, as to what fiber art is exactly. She has found that she has had to educate curators or jurors about fiber art in order for them to be able to fairly compare her work to that of other media such as painting.
Challenges of educating mainstream curators about fiber art
Other panelists, such as independent curator, Trudi Van Dyke remarked about the difficulties of finding venues for fiber art. She represents several fiber artists and works to find appropriate venues for group exhibitions that focus on contemporary fiber. She feels that there is and continues to be a bias against fiber art and an unwillingness for galleries, museums and collectors to pay enough attention to this genre. She also concurred with others on the panel that it is often a lack of knowledge that may be impeding presenting more fiber exhibitions. In her role as a judge at fine art festivals she takes the opportunity to educate others about fiber art, both traditional quilting and contemporary mixed media and how to critique and appreciate it.
Linda Syverson Guild, architecturally inspired quilt-maker, commented, “the rubric that measures fiber art is constantly in flux. The best we can do as fiber artists is strive to educate the general public and move as a whole toward increasing their exposure to our type of art in the world, hopefully moving into the galleries alongside and hopefully be measured by the same rubric as art that has survived centuries. SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) of which she is a member, is working toward this goal and unified under its umbrella, we are finding places to present our art to the world with pride. Because there are organizations like SAQA, I can answer, yes fiber art is more than a trend.” Linda also said, “I posted the question ‘ Is fiber art a trend—or is it here to stay?’ to a group of fiber artists. They offered the best explanation for approaching the question of main streaming fiber art: consider the fact that frequently a painter begins with fiber, we do the same thing, the paint we use to make our art is also fiber.”
Linda Syverson Guild, Following the Leader, 20 inches square. My response to Trump’s election, referencing the Disney movie Peter Pan and the song the children sing, ‘We’re following the leader…wherever he may go.’ That song echoed through my head as I completed this piece.
Elena Stamberg, artist of thread drawings and sculptures, came to the issue of fiber art in the mainstream of art from a different angle. linkShe questioned the very description of herself as a fiber artist. “The words ‘fiber art’ make me cringe. Art is art and it does not matter what the materials are. If we continue to call ourselves fiber artists I think it brings up the image of craft and crocheted toilet paper covers. Artists today are using fiber techniques and fiber materials to make art that is accepted in the mainstream art world. They use the words embroidery, thread, cloth, but do not describe themselves as ‘fiber artists.’ For example, Reiko Koga and Jessica Rankin use embroidery and thread and cloth to make their art but they do not describe themselves as ‘fiber artists.’”
Eileen Doughty, whose large scale quilts have been shown as part of public art commissions, mentioned the importance of such commissions as a way of bringing fiber art to the awareness of the art world and the community at large.
Elena Stamberg, Ebb and Flow, Triptych, embroidered stitch, 2013, Madonnas, gourds, sticks, knitted shroud made from mixed media fiber, photo credit Ulf Wallin
Advantages and disadvantages of the medium and how it affects the content of their work
The discussion at the WAS gallery turned to each artists reasons for choosing fiber as a medium. Eileen Doughty commented, “My 3D stitching is *only* stitches. I realized I love thread so much, I dropped out the fabric. And I love working in this fiber art medium because I am always touching it as I make it. If I were a painter I would feel that using a paintbrush separates the painter from the canvas - too far!”
Eileen Doughty, Elm Tree Teapot cotton threads, Flip Flop Tea #2, metallic threads, Cherry Tree Tea, cotton threads
Similarly, Clara Graves said, “It is my feeling that traditional paintings in oil, acrylic, and watercolor by their very nature create a sense of distance between the art and the viewer. Unfortunately, I think that is also true of my silk art that is meant to go on the wall since I always frame it or mount it onto canvas. What I find entrancing about fiber art is that it seems warm and alive in a way that a rigid piece of art hanging on a wall or a hard sculpture does (not). Fiber art often seems to create a feeling of welcome and intimacy whether it is a quilt hanging on a wall, a tapestry or your wonderful felted people. One of the reasons I chose to shift my focus to wearable art is that it is literally a hug when you wear it.”
Clara Graves, wearable silks, Blue Top, Vest, Red Jacket
Elena Stamberg described how she first presented herself as a more “traditional” artist when she was juried into the Studio Gallery in DC. Once she was admitted, she then began to integrate materials more traditionally associated with fiber art. She created sculptural “madonnas” out of gourds and then draping them with “shrouds” made out of a variety of materials, including shiny white twine from Home Depot, old video tape, fishing line, clothesline, and bias silk tape. She also makes embroidered pieces, saying of these works, “They usually are not bound or stretched on a frame. I prefer to mount them about four inches from the wall to allow for air to flow around them, which makes them move and then they become a form of sculpture. Some are small and some are quite large, 4 feet by 6 feet.”
Fiber art has its roots in a long tradition of women’s work. Many of the artists talked of their work as reenergizing and reinterpreting these roots. Floris Flam, art quilter and surface designer, was inspired by the artist Nancy Crow, to see that the medium of quilting had possibilities beyond the traditional. Floris said that the geometry of her quilts is rooted in her urban childhood. Julia Kwon, at the AAC, said that her quilt-inspired works derived from and are in reaction to the traditional Korean ‘bojagi,’ a patchwork wrapping cloth. She deliberately used both the more muted Korean fabrics, in conjunction with brighter, sometimes metallic thread infused, American-Korean fabrics.
Artists at both venues described the fiber arts world as more welcoming than the traditional art world. Clara Graves moved from the field of graphic art to become a fiber artist and said of fellow fiber artists that they seemed much more willing to share techniques and to support each other. Linda Syverson Guild worked initially as an architect and experienced bias against her as a woman in that field. She found it much more difficult to be heard within the male world of architecture compared to the world of fiber art. She agreed about the feeling of mutual support and collaboration in the fiber art world. Stacy mentioned that in her yarn bomb projects, collaboration is the focus of the work. She enlists members of the community in her projects, often teaching them techniques and sharing materials. Stacy added that, “doing public/community projects also perpetuates knowledge of fiber art and I believe it will assist in it's survival while teaching new generations the craft of knit, crochet and even needle felting. The more it gets put in the public eye, the more common it will become and won't be such an 'outsider' medium of art.”
At the AAC, Steven Frost uses a back-strap loom to engage the community in creating collaborative weavings. He spoke at the AAC of his feeling that he doesn’t necessarily own his work, but instead chooses to see it as a combined effort with either artists he collaborates with or the community. Audience members asked if this created a problem with storage and the exhibiting of his work, but he seemed to feel that this was not an issue.
Stacy Cantrell and community, Artisphere Yarn Bomb, Arlington, VA, 2013
Art vs craft
Joumana asked the WAS panelists about their sense of themselves on the spectrum of craft vs art. Clara, Eileen and Stacy talked about how much craft is a part of their work, and the importance of mastery of their medium. Some artists felt that the time consuming nature of fiber art called for a higher degree of mastery than some of the other arts. At the AAC, April Camlin, who makes and directly embroiders into woven cloth, saw the labor-intensive craft of her work as “a stark contrast to the disposability of so many contemporary goods, including inexpensive and commonplace cloth and fabric.” She sees each work as a reminder of “the labor, time and the life that is woven into every piece of cloth.”
And in my observation, it seems that the expansion in the larger art world today of what is defined as art, goes hand in hand with the expanded acceptance of otherwise marginalized groups whose craft may not have previously been seen as art. For example, the art quilts of Gee’s Bend, the fiber wrapped large scale objects of outsider artists such as Judith Scott and the woven, stitched and sewn objects by indigenous groups such as the Aborigine of Australia and Native Americans of the US, are now being seen as having deep meaning and as art in their own right. All of these trends make me more hopeful about the inclusion of fiber art into the larger art world. Perhaps with its identity as a form of art that encourages collaboration, exchange and mutual support, fiber art brings a much-needed dimension to the competitive and often soulless larger art world. I would love to hear any questions and comments that came up as you read this article. Please respond with comments below.
The show is up and it looks great! We are having a reception this Saturday from 6:30 to 8:30 at the WAS Gallery in Bethesda. The show went up last Saturday on the 19th and will be up until March 2nd.
The address is:
5110 Ridgefield Road, Suite 208
Bethesda, MD 20816
Hours: Saturdays 2-6pm and by appointment
You can also find out more at the gallery website, above. It's been wonderful working with the curator, Joumana Moukarim. She has been very encouraging, asking me to think of a bold color to add as a highlight to the walls. I chose a sunny yellow which seemed perfect for these drab, dark winter days. It is wonderful too to be able to see almost all of my dolls together in this wonderful space.
I hope you can make it to the reception this Saturday. As it says above, the hours are mostly Saturdays, but if you can't make the opening and would like to see the show at another time, please contact me or Joumana, at her e-mail or phone firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.361.5223.
There will be another event later in the show-stay tuned.
And, the first Halcyon workshop, Sculptural needle felted guardian dolls, will take place in two weeks on February 9th. Please sign up at the Halcyon website, halcyonhouse.org/arts-lab-workshop-needle-felted-guardian-dolls. When I last asked, it seemed like we need at least two more participants to be able to run the workshop.
I have been working on making prototypes for inspiration. Above are a few sneak peeks into some of the dollls I have been making. It promises to be a fun and inspirational workshop. We will have most of the day to journal and meditate on our guardians. What is a guardian, you may ask? I was inspired to teach this doll by my doll-making mentor, Barb Kobe. She teaches a year-long process in which the guardian doll is the first in a series of four dolls that represent the creative journey. The guardian comes first because she is the one who protects, guides and provides encouragement to us in whatever endeavor we undertake. In this workshop, we will use simple needle felting techniques to create guardians to serve as protectors, guides, witnesses or companions in whatever area of your life where you might feel this need.
In this workshop, I am excited to lead you in experimentation of how you might integrate very simple needle felting techniques, with some added other elements, to create something meaningful and fun. You do not have to know anything about needle felting to participate.
Let me know if you have any questions by writing here. And if you are interested, please sign up at the Halcyon website while there are still spots. Each of the three workshops I am offering will be limited to a smaller class size in order to create an intimate experience for the participants.
I've been making dolls for about five years now. I believe that dolls serve as representations and reminders of the best part of ourselves. I am exited to share with you here my learnings about new methods and techniques for doll making and healing. So glad you are here!