Welcome to Transformative Healing Dolls BLOG
More or less monthly posts about Transformative Healing Dolls
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 email@example.com 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.
Happy New Year! and "There, There: Healing Dolls as Solace in an Off Kilter World," Solo Show of Transformative Healing Dolls
Image: Erika Cleveland. "Rhea Shedding the Old". 2018. Sculptural needle felted and mixed media. 20 x 20 x 10 in.
There, There: Healing Dolls as Solace in an Off Kilter World
January 19 - March 2, 2019
Opening Reception on Saturday, January 26, 6.30-8.30pm
Artist Erika Cleveland uses the term “doll” in her work because she believes there is something unique about the word doll- humble, simple and yet powerful. Dolls have been around since the beginnings of humankind. They hold considerable power for us; they are our companions and they reflect us back to ourselves. Dolls can heal us physically, spiritually and emotionally.
In this solo show at WAS gallery, Cleveland explores various themes through mythology, folk tales, religion, spirituality and her personal dream symbolism. A central theme is the power within the female body, including the way this power is deeply rooted in nature. Darker themes such as loss, sadness and fear alternate with the playfulness of fauns, forest creatures and elves. The dolls express the dualities of life in the way they shape-shift and transform, for example through the medium of the folk art form called flip dolls. Like votives, amulets or talismen throughout history, dolls provide a focal point for healing and meditation.For more information on the artist or the artwork, please contact Joumana Moukarim: firstname.lastname@example.org/ 202.361.5223
5110 Ridgefield Road, Suite 208, Bethesda, MD 20816
Hours: Saturdays 2-6pm and by appointment
above are photos of the wonderful WAS gallery space during the December 2018 exhibit T.N.T. Text.
This exhibit was an unexpected gift, as the curator, Joumana Moukarim approached me at the Jackson Art Center Open Studios last month to ask if I would do a solo show at her gallery in January. Moukarim creates a wonderful, enriching environment for the art she exhibits and hosts a stimulating and intimate discussion while the exhibit is in place. I will post more about the discussion and possible workshop that will accompany this show, as details get finalized.
I'll be preparing for this show over the next weeks as well as preparing for the workshops at the Halcyon Center in Georgetown-see below. Lots going on!
Needle-Felted Guardian Dolls: February 9th
Sacred Feminine Wrap Doll: March 16th
Ancestors and Grandmothers Flip Dolls: April 27th and 28th
Learn more and RSVP here!
About the workshops:
This spring, join local artists, Halcyon Arts Lab fellows, and other emerging creatives in the D.C. area for interactive art workshops ranging from textiles, to dance, to jewelry, to basket making and more. Workshops will once again be held at the Arts Lab, with an expanded schedule that promises something for everyone. (You can also gift a workshop experience! Just send an e-mail to email@example.com.) View the full lineup here! (Added bonus? Halcyon Arts Lab has ample on-site and off-street parking available so you enjoy your workshop stress-free)!
Above are photos of a major studio reorganization I am doing after the "attic remediation" during which time I had to work from home. It actually looks better now than in these above photos but there is more to do. It is wonderful to have a place for everything in my studio and I look forward to lots of productive creating in this wonderful space in 2019!
ABOVE: Two views of Bloodlines, Five Generations, needle felted, soft sculpture and mixed media, depicting five generations of the maternal bloodline in my father's family
Anna im Eichelmütze, Kinder des Waldes: Ancestors
In my last newsletter, I started to write about a new ancestor doll. This is part of a series of dolls that started with Bloodlines-Five Generations, (see above image) which was about my father’s maternal line. That doll emerged after I had interviewed my father over the period of about nine months and then gathered his stories together into a small book, Looking Backward: Interviews with JHC, to be shared with my family. This new doll, Anna im Eichelmütze, Kinder des Waldes: Ancestors is about my mother’s maternal line. The German translates as Anna in an Acorn Hat and Children of the Forest.
I am currently interviewing my mother about her stories of growing up in wartime Germany. I plan to put her stories together into a book as well. It’s difficult at times to write my mother’s stories because of the hardships she and her family endured and also because of the horrible history of the Nazis in Germany. Even though I wasn’t alive then, I find that I have feelings of guilt about what was perpetrated by the Nazi party against the Jewish people. My mother was only five years old and wasn’t aware of what was happening. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about it, mostly memoirs of others who lived through that time. I just finished A Long Silence: Memories of a German Refugee Child, 1941-58 about a German woman, Sabine de Werth Neu, who suffered a difficult childhood of poverty and abuse during WWII in Germany. Unlike my mother, she and her family lived in an area of Germany occupied by Russia. After the war and she and her sisters were all brutally raped by Russian soldiers. My mother was lucky to have had a very different experience to be in an American occupied part of Germany. While there were some strange incidents, such as American soldiers pointing their cannon at my mother and her brother when they came back to their house to pick up pea flour, for the most part their interactions with the American soldiers were not as scary.
ABOVE: Some details of the Anna im Eichelmuetze doll in process, tiny figures of the two different family groups, working on the handkerchief which will go in a side pocket and a close up of the handkerchief which tells a story about my mother and her brother, Wolf
In the doll, Anna Im Eichelmütze, (see photos above,) I am trying to process my reactions to the stories my mother is telling me. The doll is also a tribute to the generations of strong women in my mother’s and my family line. I have less information about my mother’s family line than I had about my father when I was researching his story. In my mother’s family I only know of my mother’s mother, my grandmother, Annemarie Nestele, and my great grandmother, Anna Hochstätter Balz. My mother tells me about another generation, my great great grandmother, the mother of Anna Hochstätter, but my mother doesn’t remember her name. In the Anna im Eichelmütze doll, this unnamed grandmother, my great great grandmother is the one whose felted head is on top of this doll.
ABOVE: more details, my mother and sister with blueberry hats, detail of acorns on one of the "books" and front covers of the two "books"
Themes in Anna Im Eichelmütze
I am trying to address many themes at once in this doll, including the hardships my mother and her family experienced during wartime Germany, contrasted with the resourceful ways that my mother and my grandmothers dealt with these hardships.
That resourcefulness includes the ways my mother distracted herself during painful experiences such as hunger and the lack of other available resources. My mother and her siblings made up stories, based on the fairy tales that my grandmother told them. Having very limited toys of their own, they created toys out of what they could find. In my mother’s recollection, there were many times where she didn’t feel a sense of hardship or loss, instead feeling gratitude for what she was given. The acorn hat on Anna (my grandmother as a child)’s head alludes to some of the toys my mother and her siblings created.
I used an image of the house that my mother grew up in and that was later taken away from her family by the occupying American troops as a theme in this doll. This house, which was once a Benedictine monastery from the 14th century, was a school for "wayward boys" with my grandfather as director. At times the house shows up alone as on the chest of the doll. At other times, the house is overlaid with images of wartime Germany, as on the doll’s sleeves.
I also represented three generations of my mother’s family in two separate family groups. The matriarch, the unnamed great great grandmother whose felted head tops the doll, holds in her belly two “books” or fairy tales, with images of my grandmother as a child on the front of the top book (Anna im Eichelmütze) and images of my mother and one of her sisters on the front of the bottom “book” (Kinder des Waldes.) Inside each of the books there is a hidden space. I made tiny dolls to represent the two family groups and put them inside this space. On the top is my grandmother as a teen with her family, and on the bottom, is my mother as a young girl with her family. My mother’s father disappeared in the war but my mother’s family didn’t hear of his death until the 1970’s. So in her family group, I showed my mother with her mother and siblings but without her father. Behind them on the back “wall,” there is a smaller family group with my grandfather included.
ABOVE: Felting the great great grandmother's face and torso
More about my mother’s story
In the photo of my mother and siblings with my grandfather, everyone looks happy. In the little dolls made from a later photo of the family group without my grandfather, everyone is wearing ragged clothes and there is a look of pain on all their faces.
In this doll, I want to show the contradictions of my mother’s story. The pain and the joy both. She talks of having not enough food, of having lost their home, having no money. And yet they did the best with what they had. They were inventive and creative. There was still music in their lives, stories and making things. When I asked my mom about toys she said they had very little. She and her siblings, when they didn’t have to do chores or work, would go into the woods and find acorns and twigs and make their own tiny dolls. They would use walnut shells for tiny beds for their dolls.
ABOVE: details showing images of my mother's house, alternating with images of wartime Germany, on sleeves, chest and back
More about “and then we had color”…
My mother and her siblings only had plain pencils to draw with. But then someone, she didn’t remember who, gave her two color pencils, yellow and red. And her brother, Wolf got blue and green. They were able to trade colors so as to have more. My mother talks about how excited they were to have colors to draw with and what a difference this made to them. To depict this story, I stitched a handkerchief of my mother and Uncle Wolf, with the stitched words of my mother’s story of getting the colored pencils. This handkerchief is in a side pocket of the doll.
The doll is mostly beige and black, the sepia colors of old photos. But in the few details in those colors that my mother and her brother were so excited about, yellow and red, blue and green, reflect their tiny moments of joy. My mother and her siblings were also sustained by the stories that her mother read to her, Grimms Fairy tales and other stories. One of my favorites and my mother’s favorite as well was a story of children who lived in the forest, something like “Hanschen im Wald,” ( I don't remember the exact title) where the children magically shrink down to the size of the tiny animals of the forest. We both loved the wonderful drawings of the children wearing hats that looked like blueberries or strawberries, acorns or mushrooms. So I added some of these fanciful hats to the photos of my mother and her siblings on this doll.
My mother told of many other hardships that I didn't depict directly in this doll. Some of these hardships were, having to glean bits of wheat from the fields after the farmers had already been through them, so that her mother could bring them to the baker to grind for wheat. Or collecting tiny beechnuts-a day-long process, so they could get a quart of beechnut oil to cook with.
ABOVE: Front image of "Kinder Des Waldes" book, meaning Children of the Forest
Process of making the doll
This doll came out of a process of experimentation (see images below.) I knew that it was going to be related to the ancestor doll that I made about my father’s family which had an internal space at the bottom containing a felted heart and which could be opened and closed. I had the idea of making this doll using cigar boxes as the internal spaces but didn’t know more than that. I tend to work intuitively and figure things out as I go along. There were various challenges along the way, such as how to attach the “books” so that they could open and close, how to enclose the cigar boxes, how to make the tiny dolls that fit into each box and how to make these tiny dolls stand on their own. I am thinking of making a video that shows each stage of this process but for now here are a few photos showing some of the steps along the way of creating this doll.
I am interested in challenging you as a viewer to maybe make an ancestor doll of your own. Stay tuned as I figure out how to set this up here. I will also be teaching a class on ancestor dolls in the form of flip dolls at Halcyon Center in Georgetown, next April. Dates are tentative (see below) but stay tuned here for updates.
What is next?
Now I am thinking that there need to be more dolls in this series, so far I have two and one wall hanging. I am playing around with the idea of a nesting doll as ancestor doll. Stay tuned.
ABOVE: some of the technical challenges involved in making this doll. Figuring out how to attach a magnetic snap to make the doors open and close, tiny blueberry felted leaves, stands for the mini family dolls
December 2, 1-5 pm Jackson Art Center Open Studios-
Somewhat last minute, since the building is undergoing some renovations and we weren't sure if we were going to be able to host open studio this year. This year, we will still feature holiday themed food and decorations. This is a rare chance to see what I am up to in my studio and also to buy some smaller dolls that I am offering for the holiday season. Here are some of the dolls that will be on offer at the Open Studios and then at the Adams Morgan Holiday Market, if there are any left. I do plan to make more.
December 8 10-5 pm Adams Morgan Day Holiday Market-
Again sharing booth with fellow JAC artist Amelia Shachoy. I just found out that she is leaving the JAC this month. This is another chance to see what I am working on and to buy some small dolls for the holiday. Or to splurge on a larger doll… I will probably have Anna Im Eichelmuetze at this event, but Bloodlines will be in another exhibition (see below.)
December 1- 22, 2018 Opening Reception Friday December 7 6-9 PM Frida Kahlo themed exhibit at Artists and Makers
On display will be my Bloodlines-Five Generations doll ( see image at the top of this newsletter) about my father’s maternal line. There will be a holiday show at Artists and Makers on the day of the closing reception, December 22nd, but I won’t have dolls in this show.
Spring 2019 Workshops
Save these dates-tentative-still to be confirmed
There will be three workshops in the spring at Halcyon House. Halcyon House is a new center, just moved into a space in Georgetown near me. They offer artist incubator programs, to support emerging artists, arts labs and dialogues on various topics of current interest. They have recently started to offer arts workshops as well and I am honored to be a part of this program.
Here is the tentative plan of my workshops-again still to be confirmed. Stay tuned for updates.
Saturday, Feb 9 10-3 PM, Needle felted guardian doll workshop
Saturday Mar 16 10-2 PM Sacred Feminine Wrap doll workshop
Saturday and Sunday, April 27 and 28 10-3 PM, Ancestors and Grandmothers flip doll workshop.
Please note: I am currently working on prototypes for this workshop. I will get images soon that are closer to what we will be making.
ABOVE: Scenes of family and friends-me with Rachel seeing her off to the plane to McGill University (can't wait to see her at Thanksgiving!), me at the rained on Adams Morgan Day in September, with Jill Newman at the Textile Museum demo in September, with Julie Dziekiewitz at her wonderful solo show at the Art League last month, Peter's birthday with Rachel on FaceTime, Jonah on a NYC field trip
Above image is Studio shot of Rhea III, Shedding Her Skin, a new version of a doll that was lost.
Dailiness as a Path to Transformation:
I've always been interested in the power of dailiness, along with Transformation, capital "T." Lately I have been thinking more about the small steps it takes each day in order to effect those larger transformations in life. I'd like to share with you some of the practices that I use in my own life as a way of moving forward creatively. Sometimes it seems like it is the tiny daily steps, made consistently over time, that lead to true transformation.
The doll in the photo above represents the process of transformation. She is shedding her old skin, leaving her vulnerable and naked. But at the same time she is discovering her inner strength, represented by the chakras on her body. I had made another version of this doll, (scroll down to Rhea: Shedding the Old.) which was lost during transportation from a museum exhibit. In this new version of the doll, I enjoyed seeing the evidence of what I have learned in the interim. Her shed skin seems more convincing for one, and overall she seems like a stronger work. Making this doll was a way of getting over the loss of the first one, and at the same time, it was a learning process to recreate her.
One of my practices is to nourish myself with inspiring podcasts, readings and newsletters. Here are a few of them, in case you don't already know them. There is Rick Hanson and his weekly newsletter, Just One Thing. Each week he describes a practice which supports mental, physical and spiritual health. Recently he wrote a newsletter entitled, Water the Fruit Tree, which is a partial inspiration for this newsletter. He suggests that we can each do certain things on a regular basis which nourish us and make us feel happy, essentially watering our own inner fruit trees. In this way, we gain the strength and courage needed to take the small steps that lead to transformation.
What follows is a partial list of what inspires me and what is a part of my daily practice. I don't promise to have put this in any particular order. I hope it will inspire you or remind you of your own daily practices. You willl of course have your own list, but maybe this will give you some new ideas. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
photos above on the theme of "watering my fruit tree." I decided to post some photos of Halloween fun, since the day I am writing this is Halloween. The first image is of me and my son when we lived in Connecticut and I made us Where the Wild Things Are costumes. The second is from a walk last summer in Chesterfield, MA when I was visiting my parents. And the last two are a sculptural needle felted witch and a pumpkin we made for Halloween this year.
My own incomplete list of what "waters my fruit tree"
Part of what "waters my fruit tree" is daily routines. When I wake up I do a five minute energy routine that I learned from Donna Eden, with a few other steps thrown in, then I do at least a half hour of yoga on my mat. While I am at my studio, where I am most days, I often listen to audio books, using an app called Libby, which connects to your local library to easily download free audio (and Kindle) books. I also listen to podcasts and one of my favorites is Krista Tippet's On Being-more about that later.* I find listening to books and podcasts particularly useful when doing "boring" repetitve tasks in the studio that don't require a lot of thinking (yes, there are boring moments in being an artist too-see Elizabeth Gilbert interview -link below on her book, Big Magic and how everything worth doing, no matter how exciting, is still 90% boring and 10% thrilling and magical, just hang in there for the magic!) It is more distracting to listen to recordings when I am starting something new or planning things out in my studio but sometimes I get stuck listening and don't want to stop! I have to work on self discipline!
Some more things on my list:
Good News Network-a wonderful weekday post that offers a "morning jolt of good news," from around the world. Each day this newsletter collects three or four stories that tell of good deeds enacted by people from all walks of life, unusual inventions, often created out of inexpensive or recycled materials, and sometimes just funny happenings. This has been a wonderful antidote to the often very depressing headlines in the news lately.
Museum and gallery visits, "artist dates," (if you'll remember your Julia Cameron The Artist's Way!) I've decided I am going to go to galleries or museums at least once a month, since the other day when I spontaneously decided to go see some art at the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, instead of going to the studio. It was a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of the many free museums within walking distance of where I live. It's a good long walk-which is another of my energizing things, daily walks. See images below. Some of the art I saw that day reminded me of the flip doll project I finished earlier this year, though what I saw at the museum were not flip dolls. They were from two exhibits, one at the National Portrait Gallery Unseen, In a New Light and the other at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Galleries for Folk and Self Taught Artists.
Daily walks, around the neighborhood. This is a good time to reflect and mull over ideas. Lately this has been really fun because where I live, Georgetown, DC goes all out decorating for Halloween. This year, I made a needle felted witch for our door and carved a pumpkin with my husband. We have a dog, an Old English bulldog, and he gives me an excuse for daily or twice daily walks. (I alternate with my husband who usually does the morning walk.)
Learning, challenging my mind. I've been studying French with Duolingo, on day 447!! I was inspired to learn French because of my daughter's choice to go to college in Montreal, Canada where French is spoken.
Music making-I play in an amateur quartet about once a month, viola. Mostly I only play when we meet. I don't really practice these days. I want to do more eventually.
* I wanted to get back to the Krista Tippet On Being interviews. One I listened to recenty was with Elizabeth Gilbert on her recent book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. There is so much that is wonderful in this interview-I highly recommend listening to it. She demystifies creativity, saying it belongs to everyone, instead of just to artists or writers. To prove this, she asks us to think about the way in which children, all children, approach creativity naturally and without fear. Secondly, she asks us to think about our ancestors, both men and women, and how they created things "needlessly beautiful" in all the clothing, handiworks, household items, just because it felt good. This was a part of their daily lives-not something separate that you had to go to art school for. But I am starting to digress. This idea leads me to my next topic, a studio visit with the latest doll I am working on, a second ancestor doll based on my mother's stories.
Above images are from my "artist date" to the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum
Studio visit: Second Ancestor's doll in progress, this one based on my mother's stories
I have been, over the course of the past couple months, interviewing my mother, who was born in Germany and was a small child during WWII. If you will remember, I recently completed another doll about my father's ancestors and posted about that-you can see it at the bottom of that blog post. I'd like to write more about that doll soon.
The doll I am working on is inspired by my mother and is also a tribute to the many strong women in my mother's family line. The story doesn't go back as far as it did for the doll I made about my dad's ancestors. There I was able to go back about five generations. For my mom, I went back to her mother Annamarie Balz and her mother, Anna Hochstetter Balz. Beyond that, the next grandmother, my mother's great-grandmother, we don't have a name. But my mom remembers her as being very kind and had a couple photos of her. She is the inspiration for the head of this doll.
I started making the doll at the Textile Museum event that I wrote about in my last newsletter, which was a while ago! I have been building a form for a main doll body, scuulptural needle felting around two cigar boxes. Then I have been adding stitched and felted details, using photographs from my mother's relatives and of her when she was young. In this doll, I am planning to contrast images from the fairy tales that her mother ( my grandmother, whom I called Oma) read to her to distract her and her four siblings from the hardships around them, with images of the war. I plan to write more about this in my next newsletter in November. I promise to write this next one sooner!
A sneak peek at some of the progress on my German ancestor doll. If you are on Instagram, you can follow me there at erikacleve.
Save these dates
Here are some up-coming events. Stay tuned for more details. The Adams Morgan festival (which I wrote about in my last newsletter) was essentially rained out when we did it in September, so it is being offered again.
December 2 Open Studios at the Jackson Art Center, 1-5 PM
December 8 rescheduled Adams Morgan Day all day
Spring 2019 Workshops, place and topic TBA
Summer Fun: Stitched pins and tiny wall hangings
Here's (top row left and middle) another view of my mother's pin and a view of her wearing the pin. Next (top row right) is a pin entitled "I love Gully" that I made for my sister, Ingrid. She loves birds and this one is about a seagull that has been returning to the beach at Lake Ontario near our family summer house in Sackets Harbor. This bird has a backwards twisted leg and my sister has been feeding him for about five years now! Amazing that he keeps coming back!
Next (middle row left) is a dancing dragon pin inspired by a medieval image of a similar theme. This is for a friend, Chris, who loves dragons. Then you can see (middle row middle and right) a pin I made for my mother in law, Shirley, after wonderful family vacation on Mount Desert Island, Maine which she made possible with her husband Paul. I combined some of the experiences we had there, kyaking, whale watching (we didn't see whales but saw dolphins and porpoises) lobster dinners and the wonderful Mount Desert itself. It is called "Mount Desert Island Family Retreat, Summer 2018."
And in the bottom row are three images of progress on a pin I made for my daughter who is going off to McGill University in Montreal. She asked for Winnie the Pooh and a bee, so I put a small bee in an image of Pooh with Piglet. When I showed it to her first (middle image) she said " but what about the red jacket that he always wears?" I thought, "oh no! I already sewed it together, how will I do the jacket?" But I was able to do it. I embroider these pins and then turn it inside out and sew the front to the back with quilt batting in between. I had already turned it rightside out and sewn it together. But I was able to still attach a tiny piece of red felt, making it into Pooh's red jacket, with black stitches. I think she's right. He looks better with a jacket. All of these pins use a very simple stitch, back-stitch.
Note: My sister, Ingrid is a fabric designer. She makes beautiful designs that then get turned into couch covers, wall hangings, bags and more. I have a few wonderful bags with her fabric designs and some pillows.
My mentor, Barb Kobe's book is out and some of my dolls are featured in it.
My healing doll making mentor, Barb Kobe has a new book out, The Healing Doll Way: A Guided Process Creating Art Dolls for Self Discovery, Awareness and Transformation. It is available on Amazon and also on her website and is just amazing! She talks about the process of creating healing dolls, something that she teaches over a period of a year. She invites participants to make a series of five dolls, (the guardian, scapegoat, lovingkindness doll, talisman and healer.) Each doll builds on the next to create a healing journey for the participant.
Barb's method is not to give patterns and tell her students what to do, but instead to create an safe environment that fosters creativity. She includes prompts for journaling, mind-mapping and other methods to inspire and challenge those who want to use the powerful medium of doll making as a means of personal growth.
She features many of her own expressive and creative dolls in the book, and also dolls by artists who have participated in her workshops. Some of my dolls are in there too, mostly the ones I made as part of her healing doll class. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in healing dolls or even just in the healing process.
Update on the Kalili Project: Two Sources of Inspiration
This summer I've been thinking about what I want to do with the Kalili project, but I haven't done a lot of work on it. I have decided, I think, that I do want to make the whole series in fiber to complement the twelve painted triptychs that I made earlier this year. But I still haven't figured out exactly how this will look.
I have recently seen a couple examples of story-telling through fiber art that inspire me to go deeper with my own project. If you haven't seen them yet, you should check them out!
The first is Sandra Sawatsky, from Calgary, Canada and her Black/Gold Tapestry project, featured in Selvege magazine. The artist decided she wanted to make a sixty-seven meter long tapestry that celebrates the history of oil or "black gold" and that encompasses the history of the world, starting with dinosaurs. This project took her nine years to complete. She was inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry, from the 11th Century, which depicts the Norman conquest of England. Sawatsky uses three rows of images, with a central featured image and then two on-going scrolls of images at the top and bottom, similar to the Bayeux tapestry. I am enjoying reading her blog posts about the process of making her tapestry.
The other project that inspired me is a fiber artist collaboration and curated, I guess you could say, by a writer Alexander McCall Smith. It is called the Great Tapestry of Scotland. McCall Smith put out a call and many volunteer tapestry artists responded, sending individual scenes depicting various significant moments in the history of Scotland. McCall Smith was inspired by the Prestenpans Tapestry at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh. For the Great Tapestry of Scotland, he commissioned a writer to create a narrative to go along with the tapestry panels. I am fascinated with Scotland myself, though I have only been there twice.
I hope to get back to my Kalili project by October and will keep you posted on the progress.
Dates and Details for Two Fun Events that I will be participating in this September:
Adams Morgan Day: Here's the poster for the September 9, 12-6 event that I will be doing with Amelia Shachoy. We will be sharing a table. She draws, paints and makes prints. I will be selling small items, such as my woebies in tins and some stitched pins such as the ones I showed above, along with some new small dolls. Please let me know if you have a particular theme you would like me to do for one of the stitched pins. They are more fun to do when they are personalized!
If you are in the area, I hope to see you there. I haven't been to this street festival before but I love street festivals and am looking foward to being a part of it!
Celebration of Textiles: Above is a poster for the Celebration of Textiles that I will be participating it along with Jill Newman on September 15th from 10-5 at the Textile Museum in D.C. This looks like a lot of fun too. Jill and I will be demo-ing needle felting. She makes wonderful fanciful creatures, jewelry and some abstract pieces, all infused with her "zazzy peacock" motifs and inspiration. There will also be dancing, opportunities to try out various fiber techniques, food, guided tours of the museum and more.
I am going to show my latest piece inspired by Frida Kahlo and having to do with my father's ancestry, five generations of grandmothers, as well as some other recent pieces. I will be starting a new piece inspired by my mother's German ancestry. We will see how it goes because I have only just started the piece and usually at these demos it can be tough to get a lot done. Hopefully it will be interesting to see what I start from and the progress I make.
Hope to see you there if you are in the area on that day. I know it's going to be hard to choose because there are always a ton of intriguing fall activities in the beginning of September.
Below are studio views of my first ancestor doll, inspired by interviews with my father. I used photos of five generations of grandmothers, my father's mother on up for this doll. I will be showing this doll at the Celebration of Textiles and will be demonstrating the beginnings of a similarly inspired doll about my mother and the generations of mothers before her.
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!