Sunday, May 01, 2022

Make a Little Book for May Day


Here is a little May Day accordion book for you to print (one-sided printing on 1 piece of paper) and fold. This is the refrain of the Padstow May song which is traditionally sung on May Day in Padstow, Cornwall. You can hear The Revels sing it here.

1. Print the pdf. If you want to color it, I think it is easiest to do that before you fold.

2. Fold the paper in half so it is long and skinny like a hot dog and the writing and picture are on the outside.

3. Fold the folded piece in half so that the Maypole is on the outside.

4. Take one layer, flip the edge back to meet the fold, and crease.

5. Turn the paper over and do the same on the other side.

6. Your book is complete. Happy May!

View video directions here.

Download the PDF here.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Take joy

I hope you will join me in celebration as I share this image on the one-year anniversary of the day I began seriously addressing my health issues. One year ago today, exhausted and in pain, I sat crying in my nurse practitioner’s office and said, “I want my life back.” Today, two spine surgeries later, I am happy to say that I am well on my way. Thanks to all whose good wishes and good deeds have helped in my recovery. 

May we take joy from the world we live in and share our gifts to build a more compassionate one.

Here is the text which Take joy! is taken from. It is most commonly attributed to a sixteenth century monk named Fra Giovanni Giaconda in a letter to his friend, the Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi, on Christmas Eve, 1513. It was in fact written by Ernest Temple Hargrove in the earlier part of the twentieth century. 

There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, that while I cannot give, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy!

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Art Lessons: Part 7 (last)

On Christmas Eve, 1513, Fra Giovanni Giocondo wrote this in a letter to a friend: I salute you. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, that while I cannot give, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy! 

Joy is what I want from my work these days. Now that I feel that I have found my instruments of joy, I want to sound them with all my heart. In tune and in harmony is how I want to spend my hours.

My mother once said to me, “You don’t have a guilty bone in your body.” This was in the early ‘70s. She was troubled by my embrace of the changing times and my rejection of the Catholic definitions of sin she had carried with her from childhood. I felt like I had guilt aplenty, but perhaps she was right. What has stayed with and motivated me for all these years has not been guilt, but the sense that for something to be good, it must be hard.

When I began in the arts, it was hard work gaining the skills I needed to express myself. As I tried to take all I learned and make it mine, the emotional part of the equation was hard work as well. I am now in a position that it does not have to be. I have reached a level of comfort with the technical aspects of my art. I feel more creative now than I ever have in my life. I am full of ideas and possibilities. Yet, after so many years of striving, it feels too simple, too lazy, selfish even. As compelled by an inner need to do my work as I am, I have never gotten completely past the idea that it is an exercise in self-indulgence. How can it be that the rest of the world is going to a job, commuting, putting in hours that are often difficult or boring or unsatisfying or all of the above and I am playing in my studio?

At sixty-one, I am determined to give myself permission to be as selfish as I need to be to do the work I love. I have a strong sense that it’s now or never. Here’s a frequent metaphor: life is a road, a journey, a path. I’ve used it often and taken comfort in the idea that the journey is more important than the destination. Now I want a new word, a new metaphor, or better yet, no metaphor at all. Journey implies destination and I see now there is no destination, no place to get to, in the artist’s life. Saying or doing anything that implies that there is only gets in the way. We need to stop seeking the “there.” We need to live and work in the “here,” to be present and alive in every moment, and to allow ourselves to “Take joy!”

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Art Lessons: Part 6


In this there is no measuring with time. A year doesn’t matter; ten years are nothing. To be an artist means not to compute or count; it means to ripen as the tree, which does not force its sap, but stands unshaken in the storms of spring with no fear that summer might not follow. It will come regardless. But it comes only to those who live as though eternity stretches before them, carefree, silent, and endless. I learn it daily, learn it with many pains, for which I am grateful. Patience is all! 

   From Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Thirty-three years ago, after I had spent a year at the dining room table with instructional manuals, paper, pens, and ink, I would have said I knew a lot about patience. As the years went on, I realized how much more there was, and still is, to learn. The patience of the moment, what you need to form a letter or make a brushstroke or play a note, lengthens to the patience of an hour, and then a day, a year, and then, ten, twenty, thirty. I have come to see that it is only by stepping outside of the counting of time that work truly grows. 

My most significant collection of work has been the Spirit Books which are handmade books of textured papers with twigs, beads, stitched spirals, and pinpricked designs that rest in cradles of branches and roots. I made the first one in 1992. The seeds of the work were sown four years earlier after a massive pruning around our house which yielded huge piles of lilac, grape vines, roses, and honeysuckle. Some of the pieces were interesting and sculptural but most were just sticks and vines. As I cut them to make them more manageable, I felt that they were filled with life and brought as many as I could into the studio. 

In the intervening years, I experimented with the twigs and branches—binding them into bundles and placing them in boxes. While they enabled me to express my reverence for the natural world, they weren’t works of art. And then, one fall day, I made a book of natural papers that rested in a cradle of grape vines. Although I had been working with book arts for several years, I never thought to connect the two. Artists, scientists, everyone, has these “aha!” experiences. An idea or a problem has been percolating for a long time. Seemingly out of nowhere comes that mysterious, mystical moment when something outside, or deep within, ourselves, takes over and something new is created. 

The greatest gift we can give ourselves as artists is the gift of time: time to gather—to walk and read and think and see, time to play—to doodle and dabble and try new materials and mediums, time to work, and time to reflect—to let work sit and sink in so we can come back to it with fresh eyes. 

We need to acknowledge that no time spent in creative activity is ever wasted. Sometimes we see it in specific ways. Bits and pieces of the past have a way of creeping into the work of the present. What was left behind as a tangent can become the basis of new work five years later. Sometimes the value is purely in the time spent with intention. Every time we become deeply immersed in our work, we break through the barrier of time into a sacred space where we lose ourselves in the creative process and gain strength, resilience, and patience.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold was speaking of perfection when he wrote “Not a having and a resting, but a growing and a becoming” in an essay that was part of the collection, Culture and Anarchy, which was published in 1869.  

There are several definitions of the word perfect and most are limiting: conforming absolutely to the description or definition of an ideal type; excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement; entirely without any flaws, defects, or shortcomings; accurate, exact, or correct in every detail. This is the perfection I envision as a glass castle glimmering in the distance. When I come closer, I see that the walls are shiny and sheer and there are no windows or doors. There is no way in. Our work should be an open door—an invitation to think, to sing, to dance, to feel—to both ourselves and our viewers. 

The word perfect has one more definition: exactly fitting the need in a certain situation or for a certain purpose. I use it often in this way. A student is set to fold a piece of paper and asks “Is this okay?” “Perfect.” My daughter is sautéeing onions and asks, “How are these?” “They’re perfect,” I answer. Do I mean that the paper or the onions have reached some ideal state of perfection, that they are the ultimate of all possibilities? No, but are they, for the moment at hand, exactly what is needed? Yes. We need to seek not the ideal but the real, using the materials that are in our hands, the experiences that have shaped our thinking, and the feelings that have affected our spirit. 

When I work, I don’t set out with a goal of making something beautiful, nor do I have a vision of what the piece will look like at the end. What I seek is harmony. I am trying to make something in which all the parts work together to form a pleasing and integrated whole. I think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Like the little bear’s porridge, I want it to be “just right.”

One of the gifts of artmaking is the opportunity to inhabit, at least some of the time, a place of our own. Even if we express the conflict and chaos we see around us in our work, we can still experience the peace of making harmony as we put pen to paper, brush to canvas, or fingers to keyboard.


Thursday, April 21, 2022

Art Lessons: Part 4

Eckhart von Hochheim, known as Meister Eckhart, was a thirteenth century German theologian, philosopher and mystic.

I first became acquainted with Meister Eckhart’s “Let us borrow empty vessels” in Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, a book that has been very influential in my thinking about my work. Hyde describes art in the creation stage as a gift in two ways—the gift of the natural talents of the artist and the gift of inspiration. He sees a third stage, when the art leaves its maker’s hands. He writes: “The art that matters to us—which moves the heart, or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience—that work is received by us as a gift received.”

By acknowledging the gifts we are given, we have companions in our work. We are not alone but inhabited by some larger spirit. I like to think beyond the work to the ultimate gift we are given, the gift of life and its fundamental element, the breath. With each one, we bring the outside in and let the inside out. It is all about balance. The exhale is as important as the inhale. My Alexander Technique teacher has taught me to exhale as completely as possible by counting from one to ten over and over until there is no breath left. And then, after a pause, to relax and let the air flow in. I am emptying the vessel that is me—of old thoughts and ideas, of resentments and disappointments—to make room for the new. 

We need to take in, pause and absorb, and release into new work. We need inspiration but not overload. We need to look at the work of our artist ancestors and our peers to renew and rekindle the spark within us while also protecting the space where our own voice lives and grows. To feed the strong center where the gift can flourish, we need to keep the balance of the breath in every thing we do. 


Art Lessons: Part 3

 “Let me listen to me and not to them” is the first line of Stanza VII of Gertrude Stein’s 1932 work, Stanzas in Meditation. John Ashbery in July, 1957 issue of Poetry Magazine wrote: “But it is usually not events which interest Miss Stein, rather it is their ‘way of happening,’ and the story of Stanzas in Meditation is a general, all-purpose model which each reader can adapt to fit his own set of particulars.” I thank Gertrude Stein for writing such a perfect line that fits my own set of particulars so well.

Looking back, I don’t think I had an auspicious start as an independent-thinking artist. In my memory, I am lying on the floor with my crayons and favorite coloring book of garden flowers—roses and lilies, peonies and columbines. I am soothed by the sound of the crayons moving across the paper, challenged by keeping a smooth texture while staying within the lines, and content with the knowledge that a beautiful representation of the flowers I love in my grandfather’s garden awaits me at the end. I never thought that it would be better or more rewarding to draw or paint my own versions.

That same child did have another side. I would never call myself feisty but I did have a deep vein of stubbornness and determination. My mother and I had fierce fights over my clothing and hair in the ‘60s when jeans and work shirts replaced sweater sets and pearls and rollers no longer put waves and curls in my hair.

When I immersed myself in calligraphy in my late twenties, I had no formal training in art and design. I learned calligraphy first from books and then in workshops. For years, and to some extent still, my first impulse was always to color within the lines, to stay loyal to what I started with, to accept the authority of the author of the book or the leader of the workshop. I came to see that it is not about rules but principles. Rules get under our skin and ask to be broken. Principles ask to be understood.

As I became more comfortable with the technical and design aspects of calligraphy, I began to ask myself the deeper question: what do I want to say? As a calligrapher who used the words of others, I was what my mentor Jenny Hunter Groat described as an interpretive artist. Her example was the ballerina Margot Fonteyn. I realized that I would rather be the modern dance creator Martha Graham, Jenny’s example of an originating artist. 

I created the first work I consider truly my own in 1986. The previous year had been a tumultuous one. My mother died unexpectedly in January and my first child, my son, was born in June. Out of this came Childbirth Journey, a series of fifteen pieces with abstract pastel drawings and excerpts from my journal. After exhibiting it, I felt that the wall was not the appropriate place for sharing these intimate thoughts and turned to the more private space of the handmade book. 

While my first books used my own texts in calligraphy and type, I soon found myself moving away from words and narrative sequence. I created images on the photocopier and made simple accordion books that used repetition as a primary element. Insecure in the strength of the imagery, I wrote texts on the back of the pages to explain what I thought the books were about. When a poet friend came to visit, I showed her one of the books. She said that there were so many things to see in it that she could look at it for a long time. As soon as she left, I covered the words. I realized that explanation is not art and any poetry in the piece was not in the words but in the object itself.

Every time I moved out of the self-imposed lines I was honoring, it took bursts of both determination and desperation. Every transition grew out of months of struggle filled with tears. Each time I needed to stop making rules for myself and dig down to the next layer of making art—to take what I knew and step into the unknown. Our work is what leads us in new directions. We need to let it be our guide and have the belief and the confidence to follow it. It is listening to us, which happens as we work, that allows us to make art that is truly our own.

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