Holding the balance

An equinox is the day when the sun shines directly on the equator and the length of day and night is nearly equal.  There are only two per year.  The equinox in September is also known as the autumnal (fall) equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and is considered the first day of autumn.

For the past couple of weeks, I have observed  nights beginning to draw in, mornings beginning shrouded in mist and the subtle turning of leaves to brown, amber and other warm colors of autumn.

I love this time of year and look forward to making our home cosy and warm, and turning inward to find the light within.  I bought a gorgeous bunch of end of summer flowers and we had a  supper to welcome autumn of sausages, mashed sweet potatoes, haricot verts and onion gravy.  The lingering evening light came in through our living room window. but in a few short weeks, all of our suppers will be candlelit.

On my walk home from the gym yesterday, I noticed dozens of jackdaws and crows riding the updrafts in a certain spot.  By the time I fetched my camera and returned, they had flown elsewhere.  It was a place where the wind took turns arriving from the south, west and north bringing different air currents, temperatures and cloud formations.  I felt as though I was right in the middle of where things are changing.

This tree who has shed most of its leaves seems to be holding the balance between the seasons, just for a moment.

Like the trees, like nature, I try to find the grace to be with each passing moment and season.  To find equanimity and hold the balance in the midst of change.

 

 

 

 

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Back to the beginning

Over the past five or so years that I’ve been on a hiatus from making fibre art, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about my Muscogee ancestry all the way back to the Mississippian period.  The Muscogee, also known as the Creek Confederacy,  are descendants of the Mississippian culture peoples, who flourished between 800 AD and 1600 AD.   The Muscogee were a confederacy of tribes consisting of Yuchi, Koasati, Alabama, Coosa, Tuskeegee, Coweta, Cusseta, Chehaw (Chiaha), Hitchiti, Tuckabatchee, Oakfuskee, and many others.  

I have been influenced by much of the artwork that has survived and been documented.  I have also read many of the stories and legends which have survived orally and were collected throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Alabama Indians’ creation story tells of the beginning of things –

“Once, long ago, before the time of the oldest people,
water covered everything.
The only living creatures above the water
were some small animals and birds
who occupied a log raft
drifting about in the great ocean. . . . . . .”

First World, Neocolor crayons on paper, 25 x 25 cm, 2014

I began this acrylic painting last weekend on a rainy Sunday.  In the summer of 2015 I took a painting workshop led by Nocona Burgess in which we learned about painting onto a canvas primed with black gesso.  I found a couple of blank black canvases recently during a studio tidy up.

One of the tips I learned from Nocona was how to mask off the canvas to get a super straight and crisp line.

A crisp tip

I surrounded this first world with colors from the Medicine Wheel.

In the Beginning there was only Water, Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 cm, 2017

For my current work in progress I’m using Sennelier Oil Pastels on 250gsm mixed media paper.  I love working with my fingers and how the colors can be blended.

Water covered everything, Oil pastel on paper, 30 x 30 cm, 2017

I’m going to the art store tomorrow to get some turpentine so I can see what that does to the pastels.  I also plan to pick up some more square canvases.

I suddenly have a lot of ideas and images for paintings and works on fibre waiting patiently to come out.  It is as though everything I have been taking in over the past five years has had a chance to settle, find roots and is growing once again towards the light of day.

Sources:   Creek Confederacy  ::  Muscogee

On the road again

Well now, I thought I’d written about this next piece two years ago when I started making it.

Working title for a work in progress: The Road to Oklahoma
It is about being torn apart, partings from, partings through, bloodline, arrival, departure, the long straight road that cuts through the land.

September 2015

The base is made from undyed fleece from a Whiteface Dartmoor sheep needle felted onto black acrylic felt. Torn red silk dupioni stitched down with white bugle beads bisects the road.  I machine stitched a sinuous Mississippian riverine motif along the left hand side.

The back side tells a story too.

It has been hanging on my design wall since 2015.  A couple of weeks ago, I have come back to work on it.

I made some gorgets from paper clay.  The original ones would have been carved from whelk shells by the Mississippian ancestors of the Mvskoke.

I stitched them to the top right hand side of the piece with red thread,

but then decided to change to cream thread.  The metal disc is the cremation remains disc from my father’s ashes.

On the lower left side is another Mississippian gorget, printed onto organza of a Red Stick warrior.  This represents and honours my Mvskoke ancestors who lived in what is now the state of Alabama until we were ‘removed’ to Indian Territory in the 1830’s.  We were called Upper Creeks by the European invaders to differentiate us from the Lower Creeks who had settled in what is now Georgia.

This is also about my dad Frank Charles Schwakhofer, who was born in Muscogee, Oklahoma in 1919.  Because he was half Muscogee (Creek) and half white, he never felt like he fit in anywhere.  Both the white and the Indian kids called him a ‘half breed’. He never learned to speak Creek, but he could understand it.  He left home as soon as he could.  First, riding the freight trains out to California in the mid 1930’s when he was 16.  Then when he got older, he always had a car.  He drove off and never looked back.

I printed a map with the city of Muscogee in the middle onto cotton organza.  This map is from 1905, when it was still Indian Territory, soon to become the state of Oklahoma.  I hand embroidered the roads in red thread and sewed a gold bead right smack on top of Muscogee.  The photo of my dad, also printed onto organza, is from June 1955. On the road somewhere.

an Indian and his car

 

Your struggle is stunning

Somewhere in the sea of people,
and along side the asphalt rivers,
just below the canopy of steel giants
is a break in the concrete
where one single, fragile flower grows.
Your struggle is stunning,
and your bravery is beautiful.
I hope you choose to grow in places
no one ever thought possible.

R.M. Broderick

As good as new

Well hey!  I finished quilting all 161 squares and 60 triangles this weekend.  I’m not really sure why there are an odd number of squares, but I did count them at least twice.  During the quilting I’d noticed that some of the peach fabric squares in one of the nine patches were very threadbare and holey.  I put a pin through it to remind me where they were.  We slept underneath the quilt that night, fortunately not getting pricked.

I replaced them with some teeny ones using a buttonhole stitch around each one.  I love the cute little animals on these 1930’s reproduction fabrics!

Then I washed it, ironed the prairie points flat and have put it back on our bed.  The quilt on the wall is our wedding quilt Cleaved.

This has been such a fun and satisfying project that I am thinking about making another quilt.  🙂

Return to quilting

No one is more surprised than I at how much satisfaction and pleasure I’ve gotten from working on Nellie’s Nine Patch.   I ‘found’ myself as an artist when I discovered quilting in 1996.  I focused on art quilting, textile and fibre art for about the next 15 years.  I made my last quilt in 2012 for my bed ‘Enter the Forest of Dreams’.  Then, I started going to a drawing class in 2013 and got into other media for a while.

Enter the Forest of Dreams, bed quilt, 2012.

Still, most people know me as an art quilter and often ask me how my textile work is going;   for the past five years I’ve been saying, ‘I used to make quilts and fibre art, but recently I’ve been painting and drawing and doing other stuff’.

Anyhow, I digress.  I’ve finished all of my repairs on Nellie’s Nine Patch and have decided to quilt the 161 squares which I had left blank back in 2002.

I quilted about a mile of straight lines criss-crossing through each one using my walking foot.  I do not have a long arm quilting machine.  I do have very strong hands and biceps though!

Then I lowered the feed dogs, put my free motion foot on my Bernina and am adding a four petal flower to each square.  I like figuring out the meandering pathway through a set of about 20 squares and ending up right where I began.

I’m also replacing the grade school photo of my mom which was so faded on the back side. I quilted the square (and over the old photo) first, then replaced the photo, so it would not have quilting lines going over her beautiful face.

Back of the quilted square, prior to replacing the photograph.

At first, I was going to use a photo printed onto sheer fabric.  I felt there was something romantic about the 15 year old faded photo being overlaid with a new one, but I had problems lining up the eyes exactly.  First one, then the other was too low.  I ironed on, then tore off the first two.  By the time I got to my third sheer attempt, there was so much fabric glue showing through that she appeared to have a skin disease.

In the end, I decided to print the photo onto Pima cotton.  I’ve also replaced the poem in a font that looks like old fashioned cursive writing.  My mom had great penmanship, which she probably learned as a little girl in the 1930’s.

Once I had zigzagged around the edges of the photograph and the poem with invisible thread to secure it, I re-stitched in the ditch around the nine patch squares from the front, leaving the photograph framed, secure and unstitched through.

The Durabright ink in my Epson Stylus printer is archival quality and is supposed to last for 100  years.  So the childhood image of my mom will be around for quite a long time.  Longer than it takes memories to fade anyhow.