July 24, 2016

The Months of Kindred Spirits: Part One

I loved this phrase the moment I first heard it from little Anne Shirley (of Green Gables fame). Kindred Spirits.  Those souls whose core contains a piece of our own...who trigger the feeling of deep connection in even the most simple of encounters.

May and June brought me two precious encounters with Kindred Spirits.  (July brought a war between my camera and my computer, with a momentary truce attained just today.)  

In May, I returned again to the Crow Timber Barn for another week with fiber artist Dorothy Caldwell.
Remember how much I loved her first class, Human Marks? This workshop is called In Place. It consists of various exercises that capture Dorothy's passion for experiencing place, recording information about it, and translating all this onto paper and cloth. Specifically, two small handmade books.

So there we were, 19 women. Some in pairs of friends or sisters, many on their own. We started with a simple map and three pins each. One by one, we pinned 1) where we were born; 2) where we live now...
...and 3) a place that is important to us. In the stories we told explaining this last pin, we begin to perceive Place as much more than landscape. "I left Cuba when I was just a little girl." "This is where my daughter was born." "I saw the Aurora Borealis here." 

"Look how much we impose on the land," Dorothy points out. "It is the library. It holds heritage, experiences, and people.  It holds everything."

For Dorothy, everyplace is Place. Look how she records airplane landings from every trip.

She makes rubbings from soil or plant matter everywhere she goes (or ink wash, when the mood strikes). I noticed she uses a singular expression about her fieldwork and it fits: When I am working, when I am In the Land...
We start by comparing dirt she had asked us to bring from home...
 ...and rubbing it into fancy Japanese paper.
There were many other exercises. We made cord and colored it by rubbing it in local flora...
I couldn't get enough of this one.
We wandered with pen on paper and then stitched those lines.
We each selected a Place on the farm (roped off with our cord) and recorded with simple lines the sounds, the sensation of the air there. And then stitched THOSE lines. We examined maps and how they reflect our beliefs. Read through this one if you can:
We dyed with rust and plant, we marched blindfolded around a pond. We talked about curating collections, comparing the 100 objects she asked each of us to bring from home.
As if you couldn't guess which one was mine.
Are you wondering where the Kindred Spirits come in yet? From their introductions and samples of work, it was clear that many women in the group were dazzling professional artists. From the remarkable use of paint, of color, of line, it became equally clear that the quiet ones too were extraordinarily accomplished Makers.



It didn't take long for me to feel underwhelmed by my own work. Seduced by the colorful pages emerging around me, I too took watercolor brush to paper. At which point I felt even worse. I had a sleepless night and then called Himself in tears. I don't know how paint works, I sobbed. He suggested that a one-week workshop might not be the place to master a new medium. And anyway, wasn't I there to learn and absorb the approach Dorothy takes to Place?  

And feel grateful that you are in the midst of such talent, he added. Would you rather you were spending a week with people who didn't know how to do anything?

Sometimes, he is the most Kindred Spirit of all, that one.

I took his advice and surrendered into the warmth and comraderie in the studio.

After all, when in the history of time have 19 girls ever gotten along all day, every day? Seriously, this place was far from the high school lunchroom as possible. I felt the strand that ran through us all, the urge to create, and just hung on to that.
 Creativity is probably the most elemental part of my spirit and it became magical to be among others made the same way.
 By Day 4, I recognized that while I don't understand paint, I do know more than a little about how fabric works. Hey, now I get it. I am not a painter. I AM a quilter.  So I asked each person for a two-inch square of fabric, whatever she could spare. (One woman--a gifted professional painter, naturally--shrewdly bartered her Japanese shibori scrap for a piece from my 100 finds from Dead Horse Bay.) 

 I sat with the squares and within a few hours, had the last page of my book all sewn together.